Volunteering 100 hours a year can reduce loneliness felt by widowed older adults, according to a new study.

Dr. Ben Lennox Kail, co-author of the study and assistant professor of sociology at Georgia State University, examined whether becoming a volunteer at the time of widowhood is associated with reducing the risks of loneliness.

"Becoming a widow is one of the most difficult transitions that people face later in life,” said Dr. Kail. “We found that for people in general, widowhood was associated with increased loneliness over time. Among people who became widowed, if they started volunteering 100 hours per year, which is about two hours per week, this reduced loneliness to an extent that they almost look exactly like those people who never became widowed at all.”

The researchers analyzed data from 5,882 married adults, ages 51 and older, who completed the Health and Retirement Study. The survey asked questions about volunteer status and how much time was spent volunteering for an organization during the previous year.

The study found volunteering two or more hours per week resulted in decreased loneliness, with levels of loneliness similar to those of continuously married individuals volunteering at the same intensity. The findings suggest higher intensity volunteering (about two hours per week) as a potential intervention for alleviating loneliness in older adults who have recently become widowed.

Co-authors of the study include Dawn C. Carr of Florida State University, Christina Matz-Costa of Boston College and Yochai Z. Shavit of Stanford University. To read the full, click here.

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