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Older people’s loneliness and melancholy ease with time

Depressed mood and loneliness are normal reactions to age-related negative changes in health and the social network, but when they become chronic, they may threaten the health of older people.

A recent randomized controlled trial showed that loneliness and melancholy decreased slightly over time, but a social activity intervention did not expedite the process and had no effect on depressive symptoms. In addition, perceived attachment and guidance increased over time similarly in the intervention and the control group. Some positive changes occurred in perceived social integration as a direct consequence of the intervention.

– All participants had one counseling session, after which the intervention group members were allowed to choose among supervised exercise, social activity, or personal counseling, lasting six months. All intervention modes included and promoted positive social interaction, says PhD student Katja Pynnönen.

Feelings of loneliness and melancholy were attenuated also in the control group.

– The results showed that the intervention did not alleviate loneliness and melancholy more than what was observed in the control group. This is surprising because earlier studies have suggested that group activities promoting social interaction may ease feelings of loneliness among older people. It is possible that being a participant in a study or the counseling session for each participant motivated the control group members to increase their activeness or strengthen their ability to recognize their own coping skills, says Pynnönen.

This study is a part of the GoodMood project which was launched in 2008 in co-operation with the GeroCenter Foundation for Research and Development, University of Jyväskylä, the JAMK University of Applied Sciences, and the City of Jyväskylä, Finland. Participants were 223 people aged 75–79 years who reported either loneliness or melancholy when entering the study. Of them, 105 were randomized to the intervention group and 118 to the control group. The study lasted for 1.5 years. Data on health, social relationships, participation and feelings of loneliness, depression and togetherness were collected in face-to-face interviews.

The research was published in the journal Aging Mental Health:

Pynnönen Katja, Törmäkangas Timo, Rantanen Taina, Tiikkainen Pirjo Kallinen Mauri. (2016): Effect of a social intervention of choice vs. control on depressive symptoms, melancholy, feeling of loneliness, and perceived togetherness in older Finnish people: a randomized controlled trial, Aging Mental Health, doi: 10.1080/13607863.2016.1232367


More information:

Katja Pynnönen, Gerontology Research Center and Department of Health Sciences, University of Jyväskylä, Finland,  katja.pynnonen@jyu.fi, tel. 040 805 4314

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