Experiences of social isolation and loneliness in middle-aged and older autistic adults

Gavin Stewart, Emily Luedecke, William Mandy, Rebecca Charlton, Francesca Happe

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Abstract

Background: Young autistic people often experience social isolation and loneliness. Despite social isolation and loneliness increasing in later life in non-autistic populations, no studies have examined whether middle-aged and older autistic adults are at an increased likelihood of these experiences.

Methods: 428 adults (autistic n=265) aged 40-93 years (mean=60.5 years) completed questionnaires related to social connectedness/isolation, loneliness, and mental health. Group differences and associations were examined.

Results: The autistic group were less socially connected and lonelier than the non-autistic group. While there were few gender differences in social connectedness, women were lonelier than men in both groups, including when controlling for age and mental health. Social connectedness decreased with age in both groups, loneliness only increased with age in the autistic group. For both social connectedness and loneliness, age associations were significantly stronger in men than women.

Conclusions: Autistic adults may be particularly susceptible to social isolation and loneliness in midlife and older age. While autistic women were lonelier than autistic men, autistic men may be at greater risk of increasing social isolation and loneliness with older age. This study highlights the need for evidence-based interventions to address social isolation and to reduce loneliness for autistic people as they age.
Original languageEnglish
JournalNeurodiversity
Volume2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 17 Apr 2024

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