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Illuminating the Psychological Experience of Elderly Loneliness from a Societal Perspective: A Qualitative Study of Alienation between Older People and Society

1
CUHK Jockey Club Institute of Ageing, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China
2
Department of Medicine & Therapeutics, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Paul B. Tchounwou
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2017, 14(7), 824; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph14070824
Received: 31 May 2017 / Revised: 14 July 2017 / Accepted: 17 July 2017 / Published: 21 July 2017
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Ageing Well: The Role of Age-Friendly Environments)
Loneliness is a common experience among older people that is associated with health risks and negative well-being. As a psychological phenomenon, it has typically been defined in Western research literature as the discrepancy between desired and actual interpersonal relations. In our qualitative study in Hong Kong, we offer insight into ageing and loneliness in an urban environment of the non-Western world and propose to reconceptualise loneliness by exploring older people’s experience of alienation at the societal level as an important but often neglected dimension of their loneliness. Thirty-seven community-dwelling, Chinese adults aged 65 and above were interviewed in focus groups and their accounts analysed and interpreted using a phenomenological approach. Findings revealed that focus group participants perceived insufficient care for older people, a growing distance between themselves and society, and their disintegrating identity in society to be primary sources of societal alienation. In response, older people adopted a more passive lifestyle, attributed marginalisation and inequality to old age, and developed negative feelings including unease towards ageing, vulnerability and helplessness, and anger. The emergence of these key components and underlying themes of societal alienation illuminated neglected facets of the psychological phenomenon of loneliness and highlighted new implications for policy, practice, and research from a societal perspective to address older people’s loneliness in urban settings. View Full-Text
Keywords: loneliness; social exclusion; social isolation; urban living; aging; phenomenology loneliness; social exclusion; social isolation; urban living; aging; phenomenology
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Wong, A.; Chau, A.K.C.; Fang, Y.; Woo, J. Illuminating the Psychological Experience of Elderly Loneliness from a Societal Perspective: A Qualitative Study of Alienation between Older People and Society. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2017, 14, 824.

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