Longitudinal examination of emotional functioning in older adults after spousal bereavement

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Abstract

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. Methods: Using latent class growth analysis, we modeled 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
Pages (from-to)1668-1678
Number of pages11
JournalJournals of Gerontology. Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Volume75
Issue number8
Early online date6 Apr 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2020

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