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What is the optimal number of friends to not feel lonely?

News
August 14, 2022
By
Ehab Naim, MBA.

Friendship is a stronger determinant of loneliness in older adults than relationships with family members. Addressing loneliness requires four close friendships.

Loneliness is defined as a deficiency in the quality or quantity of social relations. It could be both emotional and social. The former is perceived as inadequate intimacy in relationships, while the latter refers to a deficiency in the number of social relationships. Temporary loneliness is sometimes needed to further form and maintain social connectedness. However, constant perception of loneliness negatively influences physical and psychological health. On a financial level, it impacts the economy. For example, loneliness is estimated to cost employers £2.5 billion in the UK due to reduced productivity and increased turnover, among others.

Research shows that older adults value friendships. It has been shown that this age group is more satisfied with their friendships than their younger counterparts. This is likely attributed to their view of time as a limited resource, which makes them prioritize friendships. In other words, older adults view time as something limited, making them focus on present-oriented goals. This is uncharacteristic for their younger counterparts, who view time as expansive and focus on future-oriented goals.

Evidence from the literature suggests that friendship is a stronger determinant of loneliness in older adults than relationships with family members. In this context, research shows that interaction with friends alleviates loneliness to a greater extent than interaction with family members, like children and grandchildren. Also, the higher the quality of friendships, the lower levels of loneliness. Across different age groups, studies highlight that a higher number of friends negatively correlates with loneliness. In their study, Thompson et al. investigated whether a curvilinear relationship exists between the number of close friends and loneliness in older adults. Also, the authors try to identify the optimal number of close friends in terms of loneliness in the said age group. The assessed sample consisted of 350 participants from the UK aged 65 years and above. The researchers assessed loneliness, depression, anxiety, and stress variables.

Results revealed a significant inverse curvilinear relationship between the number of close friends and the abovementioned parameters. This is in line with results obtained from other studies in the literature, where a higher number of friends corresponded to more feelings of loneliness. This is possibly attributed to the lack of emotional closeness with the greater number of friends. Further investigation revealed that addressing loneliness requires four close friendships. At the same time, the threshold for depression, anxiety, and stress were 2,3 and 2, respectively.

The authors concluded that there is a limited benefit to increasing the number of friends in older adults. Results of this study could help those involved in loneliness interventions understand the threshold needed to address loneliness and the other mentioned parameters. The researchers acknowledged the need for further research with a larger population to confirm the findings.

Source: Thompson A, Smith MA, McNeill A, Pollet TV. Friendships, loneliness and psychological wellbeing in older adults: a limit to the benefit of the number of friends. Ageing and Society. Cambridge University Press; 2022;1–26. doi:10.1017/S0144686X22000666

Loneliness is defined as a deficiency in the quality or quantity of social relations. It could be both emotional and social. The former is perceived as inadequate intimacy in relationships, while the latter refers to a deficiency in the number of social relationships. Temporary loneliness is sometimes needed to further form and maintain social connectedness. However, constant perception of loneliness negatively influences physical and psychological health. On a financial level, it impacts the economy. For example, loneliness is estimated to cost employers £2.5 billion in the UK due to reduced productivity and increased turnover, among others.

Research shows that older adults value friendships. It has been shown that this age group is more satisfied with their friendships than their younger counterparts. This is likely attributed to their view of time as a limited resource, which makes them prioritize friendships. In other words, older adults view time as something limited, making them focus on present-oriented goals. This is uncharacteristic for their younger counterparts, who view time as expansive and focus on future-oriented goals.

Evidence from the literature suggests that friendship is a stronger determinant of loneliness in older adults than relationships with family members. In this context, research shows that interaction with friends alleviates loneliness to a greater extent than interaction with family members, like children and grandchildren. Also, the higher the quality of friendships, the lower levels of loneliness. Across different age groups, studies highlight that a higher number of friends negatively correlates with loneliness. In their study, Thompson et al. investigated whether a curvilinear relationship exists between the number of close friends and loneliness in older adults. Also, the authors try to identify the optimal number of close friends in terms of loneliness in the said age group. The assessed sample consisted of 350 participants from the UK aged 65 years and above. The researchers assessed loneliness, depression, anxiety, and stress variables.

Results revealed a significant inverse curvilinear relationship between the number of close friends and the abovementioned parameters. This is in line with results obtained from other studies in the literature, where a higher number of friends corresponded to more feelings of loneliness. This is possibly attributed to the lack of emotional closeness with the greater number of friends. Further investigation revealed that addressing loneliness requires four close friendships. At the same time, the threshold for depression, anxiety, and stress were 2,3 and 2, respectively.

The authors concluded that there is a limited benefit to increasing the number of friends in older adults. Results of this study could help those involved in loneliness interventions understand the threshold needed to address loneliness and the other mentioned parameters. The researchers acknowledged the need for further research with a larger population to confirm the findings.

Source: Thompson A, Smith MA, McNeill A, Pollet TV. Friendships, loneliness and psychological wellbeing in older adults: a limit to the benefit of the number of friends. Ageing and Society. Cambridge University Press; 2022;1–26. doi:10.1017/S0144686X22000666

Article reviewed by
Dr. Ana Baroni MD. Ph.D.
SCIENTIFIC & MEDICAL ADVISOR
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Dr. Ana Baroni MD. Ph.D.

Scientific & Medical Advisor
Quality Garant

Ana has over 20 years of consultancy experience in longevity, regenerative and precision medicine. She has a multifaceted understanding of genomics, molecular biology, clinical biochemistry, nutrition, aging markers, hormones and physical training. This background allows her to bridge the gap between longevity basic sciences and evidence-based real interventions, putting them into the clinic, to enhance the healthy aging of people. She is co-founder of Origen.life, and Longevityzone. Board member at Breath of Health, BioOx and American Board of Clinical Nutrition. She is Director of International Medical Education of the American College of Integrative Medicine, Professor in IL3 Master of Longevity at Barcelona University and Professor of Nutrigenomics in Nutrition Grade in UNIR University.

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