A gnawing sense of irrelevancy and invisibility suddenly hits many aging adults, as their life roles shift from hands-on parent to empty nester or from workaholic to retiree. Self-worth and identity may suffer as that feeling that you matter starts to fade. Older adults see it in the workplace when younger colleagues seem uninterested in their feedback. Those who just retired might feel a bit unproductive.
New research suggests this perception of becoming irrelevant is very real. And that’s why some seniors are determined to stay social, remain relevant and avert the loneliness often linked with aging.
When people reach their 60s, opportunities to offer advice drop dramatically, said Schafer, the lead author of a study on how offering advice gives life more meaning. Overall, 1 in 5 adults in their 60s said they did not give advice to anyone in the past year, and the rate dropped to 1 in 4 people 70 and older, according to a 2016 study of more than 2,500 adults published in Social Psychology Quarterly.
That’s not all. A national survey of 1,000 adults age 64 and older conducted in August by the California-based nonprofit SCAN (a Kaiser Health News funder) found almost one-quarter of respondents agree “they aren’t important to anyone anymore.”
Having purpose and meaning forestalls loneliness, which takes an emotional and physical toll. Studies by Lisa Jaremka and other researchers have found that loneliness is associated with weaker immune systems and poorer physical health.
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