Understanding late-life loneliness and its detrimental effects on health: the mediating role of perceived control

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Krylova, Masha V.
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Loneliness is arguably the most common and debilitating emotion that people may experience in later life. Undoubtedly, loneliness poses a very serious threat to the health and well-being of older adults. For this reason, researchers and gerontologists are actively searching for a better understanding of both the causes and effects of this detrimental emotional condition. I address this concern by asking: How does loneliness erode physical and emotional health in older people? This study focuses on perceived control (PC), a critical psychological variable thought as the means to arm people with resilience when they face challenging events especially common during the aging process. The premise of this study is that PC plays a critical role both as a predictor and an outcome of loneliness, and together, PC and loneliness have considerable health consequences. Presumably, PC mediate the effect of loneliness, helping to explain why (or how) loneliness leads to poorer physical and emotional health outcomes. The analyses are based on seniors who participated in the Aging in Manitoba Study (N = 167, M age = 80) providing responses to in-home interviews over a 7-year period. Through a rigorous methodological procedure, the study addresses several novel research questions using an incremental model building strategy accompanied by specific mediational analyses. Initially, the findings of this study have replicated the results from prior research showing that PC, indeed, represents a significant predictor of late-life loneliness. More importantly however, as a novel contribution to the research literature, the study has revealed a consistent pattern of significant partial mediation by PC of the loneliness–health association across three different health indicators. Overall, the findings demonstrate a critical role of psychological variables, particularly, PC, in understanding the relationship between loneliness and the health of older people. Currently, effectiveness of the existing anti-loneliness interventions remains weak. But, as the results of this thesis imply, PC has a great potential to form the basis for a powerful and economically viable intervention. The need to develop such control-based treatments seems especially pressing today when the world is confronted with the unprecedented challenge of social isolation during the COVID-19 crisis.
loneliness, perceived control, resilience, health, older adults