Could Mentoring Reduce Loneliness Among Recently Widowed Older Adults?

Carr et al., (2018).  Does Becoming A Volunteer Attenuate Loneliness Among Recently Widowed Older Adults? The Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences. doi:10.1093/geronb/gbx092

Excerpt from article:

Objectives: Loneliness is a significant public health concern, particularly for those who have lost a spouse through widow- hood. This study examines whether becoming a volunteer at the time of widowhood is associated with reduction of these risks.

Method: A pooled sample of 5,882 married adultsage 51+,drawn from the 2006–2014 waves of the Health and Retirement Study, was used to estimate regression models of the relationship between becoming widowed (relative to staying continu- ously married) and loneliness, and whether the associated loneliness of having lost a spouse is moderated by starting to volunteer (<2 hr, 2+ hr/week).

Results: Our results show that for those who become widowed, loneliness is significantly higher than those who stay con- tinuously married. However, starting to volunteer 2+ hr per week is related to attenuated loneliness among the widowed such that widows who volunteer at that intensity have levels of loneliness similar to those of continuously married individu- als volunteering at the same intensity.

Discussion: This study suggests higher intensity volunteering may be a particularly important pathway for alleviating loneliness among older adults who have recently become widowed. Results are discussed in light of theory, future research, and potential interventions.”

Go Deeper:

Researchers analyzed eight years of data from nearly 6,000 adults, focusing on individuals who were married at baseline and either remained married or became widowed, to explore the hypothesis that starting a new volunteer role post-widowhood is associated with reduced loneliness

Although loneliness increased in widowed people compared with those who remained married, those who started to volunteer (about two hours or more per week) had decreased loneliness. This study underscores the potential of volunteering as a valuable intervention for improving the emotional and psychological well-being of older adults, particularly those experiencing significant life transitions or social isolation.

Engagement in social and productive activities like volunteering is associated with numerous health benefits. It can improve positive emotional exchanges, lifestyle factors, self-esteem, purpose in life, and stress-buffering effects. Volunteering, especially in forms that promote meaningful social interactions (like mentoring), is highlighted as a critical avenue for protecting against loneliness, an issue particularly prevalent among older adults.

Interestingly, not all forms of engagement are equally effective in reducing loneliness, with volunteering emerging as a more emotionally meaningful activity compared to working or religious attendance for older adults. It is suggested that higher levels of volunteer engagement are necessary to significantly impact mental health and combat loneliness, especially among those at higher risk.