Understanding social connectedness of older adults who live alone
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Ample evidence underscores the deleterious effects of loneliness on health and mortality. Therefore, it is important that loneliness risks are identified across all ages and appropriate measures are devised to address those risks. Although almost a third of the US older adult population lives alone, there is limited research on the social connectedness (or its lack thereof) in this subset of older adults. This dissertation specifically focused on understanding loneliness (its extent, variance, and sources of variance) in older adults who live alone and do not use the Internet. The results indicate that the loneliness reported in this subset of older adults is greater than that found in general older adult samples. Social isolation (measured by social network variables) and emotional well-being emerged as significant predictors of loneliness in this group. Demographics, personality, and technology experience did not predict variance in loneliness beyond that predicted by social isolation and emotional well-being. To understand if Internet adoption can provide greater opportunities for connectedness, a qualitative study was also conducted. This study focused on the subjective experiences of living alone, relationships with friends, family, and groups in the context of living alone, and the role of technology in supporting connectedness needs. Loneliness was the most commonly reported challenge associated with living alone and was often described in terms of lack of companionship or someone to share one’s feelings with. The older adult Internet users perceived usefulness of Internet-based social media as a compensatory tool for communication, but valued in-person interactions more. Together these studies provided insights into the social connectedness of older adults who live alone. The findings advanced the understanding of the complexities of living alone in older age and helped identify directions to best address social connectedness needs while also supporting older adults’ desire to continue to age in the living arrangement of their choice. Finally, the gaps in research on older adults’ use of social media and its potential to support connectedness for an aging population were also addressed.