Volunteer work could help reduce loneliness in widowed older adults

Researchers have published a study inĀ The Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences wherein they have revealed that just two hours of volunteer work a week could help reduce lonelinessĀ in widowed older adults.

In the study researchers examined whether becoming a volunteer at the time of widowhood is associated with reducing the risks of loneliness, which is a significant public health concern, particularly for those who have lost a spouse, linked to poorer physical health, depression and even earlier mortality.

For the study researchers analyzed data from 5,882 married adults, ages 51 and older, who completed the Health and Retirement Study, which was given every two years and collected information on family, health and volunteer engagement.

Using data from 2006 to 2014 for individuals who were married and either remained continuously married or became widowed, the researchers determined the relationship between loneliness and becoming widowed and whether the loneliness from losing a spouse was reduced by volunteering.

The survey asked questions about volunteer status and how much time was spent volunteering for an organization during the previous year. Participants could choose from three categories: one to 99 hours per year, 100 to 199 hours per year and 200 or more hours per year.

The study found loneliness was significantly higher in those who become widowed compared to those who stay continuously married. However, starting to volunteer two or more hours per week resulted in decreased loneliness, with levels of loneliness similar to those of continuously married individuals volunteering at the same intensity. The findings suggest higher intensity volunteering (about two hours per week) as a potential intervention for alleviating loneliness in older adults who have recently become widowed.