OBJECTIVES: This study examined trajectories of emotional functioning in three domains (depressive symptoms, emotional and social loneliness) for individuals who experienced spousal bereavement, and investigated cross-domain adaptation. We hypothesized that emotional difficulties after bereavement would be more detectable in emotional loneliness than depressive symptoms or social loneliness.

METHOD: Using latent class growth analysis, we modelled changes in depressive symptoms, emotional loneliness and social loneliness from 12 years pre- to 12 years post-bereavement on data from 686 older adults to identify trajectories indicating adaptive and maladaptive functioning in each domain.

RESULTS: Most participants reported depressive symptoms below the clinically relevant threshold by showing a resilient (15.5%) or a slightly elevated (53.5%) trajectory post-bereavement. One-third (31%) reported clinically relevant depressive symptoms. More than half of the sample reported emotional loneliness post-bereavement, varying form prolonged (17%), increasing and prolonged (28.3%), and chronically high (8.9%) levels. Remaining participants displayed resilience (13.5%) or recovery (32.3%). Social loneliness showed four trajectories: very low and resilient (43.3%), low and resilient (27.5%), increasing (20.2%), and chronically high (9%) levels. One third of participants maintained adaptive, whereas 12% displayed maladaptive, functioning across all domains post-bereavement.

DISCUSSION: An increase in emotional loneliness was the most commonly observed change after spousal bereavement. This highlights the central role of emotional loneliness in depression after bereavement.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournals of Gerontology. Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 6 Apr 2019

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