Governments across the world are deeply concerned by the rise of a silent killer: loneliness. Some studies suggest that loneliness and isolation are more deadly than obesity – the result of the combined effects the condition can have on mental health, immune response, and engagement in health-benefitting activities like socialising and exercise.
And there is one population in particular who is suffering more than any other – older populations. Research from 29 countries found that a quarter of adults over the age of 60 feel lonely. It’s no surprise, therefore, that interventions which can help older people to cope with the impact of loneliness and enable them to make more connections with others is a prized target for many governments and public health workers.
A research group from California tested whether an online-delivered intervention based on positive psychology could be effective in reducing stress, depression, and loneliness, and increase self-compassion in a group of older adults.
A group of 51 older adults participated in an online Technology-Assisted Compassion Training for Seniors (T-ACTS), a manualized positive psychology intervention developed in a previous pilot study. Throughout the six week intervention, participants met individually with trainers in virtual sessions to learn to nurture self-compassion, promote resilience, and reduce loneliness and chronic stress.
Over the course of the study, researchers found that participants reported a reduction in perceived stress, depression, and loneliness, and an increase in self-compassion.
The researchers also assessed sleep outcomes and blood-based biomarkers of stress in a smaller subgroup. Although there was a limited number of participants for the sleep and biomarkers outcomes, preliminary data suggests that this positive psychology intervention may also positively influence mental and physiological outcomes in older adults.
This study advances our understanding of the feasibility of online interventions to reduce loneliness and chronic stress in older adults. Online self-compassion interventions could provide a viable solution for older adults who already face barriers to treatment.