The elderly in Spain have fewer friends but more family ties than those of countries in the center and north of Europe, and despite that close company they perceive a greater feeling of loneliness.
These are some of the conclusions of the study ‘Aging and social capital’ by Funcas, which analyzes how relationships in 14 European countries change throughout the aging process, reducing friendship networks and social activities and expanding relationships with family members.
If at the European level for people over 50 years of age the most important thing is the social networks of friendship, followed by the social media that are obtained with participation in various activities and finally family activities, in Spain – and in southern countries – this order of priorities is changed.
According to one of the researchers, Miguel Ángel Malo, professor of Economics at the University of Salamanca, explains to Efe, aging is reducing all relationships -especially from the age of 70-, although the deterioration is less in family contacts than in friendship networks.
It might be thought that having a stable family environment would translate into a greater sense of well-being, but, according to the economist, the family network gives more support but less variety of experiences than those offered by friendship and those associated with social groups.
“The ranges of life experience of the relationship with two siblings, for example, are more limited than the amount of experiences that two friends can give you; communication and experiences, although they are so intense with friends, are more varied and that is very important for satisfaction. ”
Therefore, although family networks remain longer and provide more support, “in social relationships they are more redundant” and provide less happiness, highlights the author of this study, together with Ricardo Pagán, professor of Economics at the University of Malaga.
Greater loneliness in women
“For women, this process of erosion and substitution of relationships associated with aging is more intense, reporting at the same time more loneliness”, points out Professor Malo.
Women over 50 are more lonely than men: “Women feel more alone because they want to get more from family networks and rely more on those networks than men.”
But it must also be taken into account that having the same number of relationships, older people in southern countries feel a higher loneliness because they ask for and expect more from them. “In Central Europe, with seven relationships between family and friends, they may be considered satisfied, but a Spaniard or Italian thinks that I am alone because I only have seven relationships,” he points out.
The study confirms the importance of friendship and social participation networks for the well-being of the elderly, and recommends promoting activities that increase the number and frequency of these relationships beyond the family, providing spaces for meetings of different clubs. for instance.
The pandemic it would have reduced the variety of experiences of social relationships, which has negatively affected satisfaction with social networks and loneliness felt by the elderly, highlights the research.
“As the rate of vaccination of the elderly advances, it would be advisable to quickly promote the realization of social activities that increase the number of social relationships beyond the strictest family environment and stop the serious deterioration suffered by social networks with the limitations of mobility and social distance “, he proposes.
Less help outside the home
In Spain, there is a lower percentage of people over 50 who receive external help from people who go home to carry out daily cleaning tasks or other types of care. Specific, it stands at 11.5%, compared to 18.7% in Europe.
Even if aid from within the home in Spain is somewhat higher, not important enough to compensate for the lower amount of external aid compared to Europe, the study exposes.
Women receive less help within the home, which fits with the fact that they are normally caregivers and, if they need such care, they are managed from outside the home, explains the researcher, who highlights that “there are more women living alone at advanced ages and, necessarily, in those cases the aid is external “.
“Formal caregivers are used when the dependency situation is important and those caregivers would be within the home caring for the elderly”, especially from the age of 75 and with permanent disabilities, but “they report lower levels of satisfaction than the elderly. others “in their relationships.
“Thus, to improve the experience of the social network, it would not be enough with a formal care focused on the provision of the service, but rather that this formal caregiver also serves to promote a more varied relationship,” says the expert.