The meanings of loneliness for older persons

Jiska Cohen-Mansfield*, Rotem Eisner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Objectives: We identify and describe the meanings of loneliness among older persons, the kinds of relationships they are seeking in order to alleviate it, and the barriers they face in developing these connections. Method: Study participants were 35 older persons between the ages of 66 and 92 years from Tel Aviv, Israel, who participated in an intervention which involved group activities and individual meetings. The transcriptions of the individual meetings in which participants described their loneliness and explored potential solutions formed the data for thematic analysis. Results: Participants experienced loneliness in highly individualized ways. They were more likely to experience it when alone in the evening and on weekends, and when distracting activities were not available. While most sought companionship, many focused on a specific type of relationship, ranging from instrumental companionships to intimate and spousal relationships. Participants often had particular preferences about the demographic and socioeconomic characteristics they desired in a companion. Barriers to alleviating loneliness included cognitive sets, social skills deficits, rejection of others, technological illiteracy, and physical, sensory, and cognitive limitations. External factors included economic hardship and community programming which failed to promote socialization. Conclusion: New approaches are needed to counter and prevent loneliness among older persons by addressing the types of particular desires raised in our findings, as well as the psychological barriers to realizing them. Public policy and societal initiatives should tackle external barriers through programming which promotes social engagement and the development of other innovative strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)564-574
Number of pages11
JournalAging and Mental Health
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2 Apr 2020


FundersFunder number
Minerva Foundation3158329500


    • Loneliness
    • barriers
    • social Isolation
    • social engagement


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