Retirement communities need to do more to help residents cope with loneliness and depression

March 23, 2005

CLEVELAND - - As the nation's population ages, greater numbers of people are moving into assisted living and other retirement communities. While these facilities offer many advantages to the elderly, a recent research article concludes that they should consider doing more to alleviate the loneliness and depression that their residents often experience.

In an article titled "Loneliness and Depression in Independent Living Retirement Communities: Risk and Resilience Factors," the authors write, "With the number of older adults steadily increasing, greater attention must be given to the factors that contribute to loneliness, social isolation and depression among those who live independently or as members of a long-term care or retirement community."

Kathryn B. Adams, instructor at Case Western Reserve University's Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences and a faculty research associate at the University Memory and Aging Center, was first author on the article, which appears in the November 2004 issue of Aging & Mental Health.

The authors surveyed residents in the independent living sections of two retirement communities to determine what personal and situational characteristics are associated with loneliness and depression, what proportion of people who are lonely are also depressed and how loneliness and depression differ. They find that loneliness is a strong risk factor for depression among residents of the institutions, and that loneliness is associated with factors such as the size of a social network, grieving the loss of a loved one and having fewer visits from friends.

Depression is also associated with grieving, but in contrast, is more closely associated with lack of participation in activities and having more chronic health conditions.

Given these differences, the authors say, gerontologists need to recognize the differences between loneliness and depression and develop methods of helping their clients cope with each. For example, retirement communities might develop specific strategies to encourage residents to maintain relationships with outside friends and family, or to send reminder notes to those outside to encourage them to call or visit. They should also consider forming support groups for those most likely to experience loneliness, such as the recently bereaved, those who have recently moved to the facility or individuals who are shy, or lack social skills.

Case Western Reserve University

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