Periods of solitude help older adults recharge after socialising

We know that loneliness is dangerous to our physical and mental health. Older people who are lonely are at a higher risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke, as well as dementia. For all these reasons, efforts are being made to find ways to improve older people’s social lives, to help them to meet their fundamental human need to belong.

However, recent work also shows that it’s not a simple case of the more social contact, the better. Periods of solitude bring benefits, too. One of these benefits is that they allow us to ‘recharge’. According to a popular model, our needs for social time and solitude move in opposite directions, like the two ends of a seesaw, and we regulate what we do accordingly. Lunch with a friend, say, is good for our wellbeing, because it meets our need to belong, but it depletes our energy; after lunch, we might then feel a need for some time alone — and this might be especially true for older people, with more limited energy. As that solitude restores our energy, we then feel a growing desire to be sociable again.

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