How do older people spend their time? Have you ever wondered what Mom is doing during the week? Maybe you are beginning to see the need to help out your parents more and wonder what they could possibly be doing that takes up so much time. Grandpa always seems to have something he is working on. Or maybe it is the other way around and you are concerned about them having too much free time on their hands.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) did a survey which shows that older people spend a lot of time alone. An older person with no spouse or unmarried partner in the home spends an average of 10 hours of the waking day alone. Even though some prefer to be alone, or say they prefer to be alone, this much alone time can lead to isolation and depression.
So we delved further into the survey results. You will be surprised.
Differences in alone time between age groups
Whether people aged 55 or older were married or not, they spend a significant amount of time during the day alone. Whether they were running errands or watching TV, approximately 10 hours a day were spent solo for non-married adults, and 5.5 hours if they had a spouse. The unmarried individuals did spend more time with friends and relatives, approximately four hours a day compared to just 2.5 hours for married couples. How does that compare with younger generations?
It is no shock that students (age 18 to 49) typically spend less time alone. According to the BLS, American Time Use Survey for students, there wasn’t even a category for time spent alone. It could be attributed to education related demands. Ironically enough, with such high amounts of time spent in “educational activities”, students spend less time reading than older people.
Overall, students spend a considerably greater amount of time devoted to education, driving around, and work than older people. That accounts for the almost non-existent amount of time younger people spent alone and probably accounts for their lower rates of depression as well.
To work or not to work
Older Americans aged 65 and older were also surveyed about their free time. Those that were employed spent around three hours a day watching television, while their unemployed neighbors watched almost five hours. The amount of time spent socializing and communicating with others, via face to face or telephone, was about the same and under an hour for both groups. They both spend less than an hour reading; the unemployed group spent slightly more time, but overall, the major difference between the unemployed and employed senior is the amount of time they spend watching television. Each group spent roughly spent the same amount of time doing household chores.
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Is depression to be considered normal then?
It is no secret that older people are at a greater risk for developing depression. While there are many factors associated with it, excessive time alone is a known risk factor. Older people also face depression risks such as health complications and concerns about loved ones who are sick or have already passed away. When looking at how older people spend their leisure time, it can give a good indication as to how depressed they may be.
Many older people are misdiagnosed when it comes to identifying depression. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, older people themselves are less likely to think they have depression. They are more prone to see themselves as just being lonely or feeling the way they do as a result of health complications. As a result, they are less likely to seek the help they need.
Read this SMC article about
Elderly Depression and
Other Indicators of Well Being.
So when you wonder “how to older people spend their time” just remember that if Grandma or Grandpa, Mom and Dad, or a close relative is spending more time watching TV and less time getting out and enjoying the golden years, it may be time to sit down and have a talk. Depression is never a normal part of getting older. Caregivers and family members should learn the warning signs of depression and take action by calling the physician if their loved one begins to show them.
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Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2015). American Time Use Survey. Available at http://www.bls.gov/TUS/CHARTS/OLDER.HTM – Last Visited May 3, 2019.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Aging and Depression. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/aging/mentalhealth/depression.htm. Last Visited March 7, 2016.