Can loneliness be reduced among older people?

This week is Marmalade Trust's annual Loneliness Awareness Week, drawing attention the fact the one-third of older adults over the age of 60, will experience loneliness.

It can’t be emphasized enough how serious the issue of loneliness is because studies show feelings of loneliness exacerbate risky habits such as smoking and poor diet, irritating vulnerabilities in health and leading to disabilities. To make matters worse, loneliness in the elderly has been associated with cognitive decline, longer hospital stays and lower resistance to infections. Meaning loneliness not only costs our NHS and local authorities huge amounts every year, but takes a huge toll on human health and quality of life.

Attempts to reduce loneliness tend to revolve around stopping social isolation by encouraging the lonely person to seek one to one support, try volunteering, visit support groups and seeking companionship from a pet. But because loneliness comes with a stigma, putting the onus on the individual to take the initiative, surprisingly isn’t effective. While government and charity attempts at social inclusion tend to include transport to day-centers, home-delivered meals to improve the quality of involvement in the community or appointing a loneliness minister.

Regardless, the reality is that the loneliness plague is continuing to grow and older people who live alone are at a higher risk of loneliness and a decline in health due to such isolation.

Because of this, the most sought after choice for aging adults who live alone and have care needs, is to opt for nursing home or residential placement. These options may not always be available to them as a result of eligibility, funding and availability in their local communities.

Perhaps, a more realistic option for local authorities and people who live alone and require a lot of assistance with activities of daily living is live-in care. This type of intervention alleviates social isolation and reduces the demand for residential and sheltered accommodation.

The option of live-in care can also be seen as a health promotion tool whereby constant care given in the home can be measured against the unmet need for community care. While live in care seems to be the better care alternative as opposed to hourly.

Journal references:

Landeiro, F., Barrows, P., Musson, E.N., Gray, A.M. and Leal, J., (2017). Reducing social isolation and loneliness in older people: a systematic review protocol. BMJ open, 7(5), p.e013778.

Victor, C.R., Scambler, S.J., Bowling, A.N.N. and Bond, J., (2005). The prevalence of, and risk factors for, loneliness in later life: a survey of older people in Great Britain. Ageing & Society, 25(6), pp.357-375.

Cornwell, E.Y. and Waite, L.J., (2009). Social disconnectedness, perceived isolation, and health among older adults. Journal of health and social behavior, 50(1), pp.31-48.

Jessen, J., Cardiello, F. and Baun, M.M., (1996). Avian companionship in alleviation of depression, loneliness, and low morale of older adults in skilled rehabilitation units. Psychological reports, 78(1), pp.339-348.

Sudduth, C. and James, B., (2015). The Impact of a Home-Delivered Meal Program on Nutritional Risk, Dietary Intake, Food Security, Loneliness, and Social Well-Being. Journal of Nutrition in Gerontology and Geriatrics, 34(2), p.218.

Alaviani, M., Khosravan, S., Alami, A. and Moshki, M., (2015). The effect of a multi-strategy program on developing social behaviors based on Pender’s health promotion model to prevent loneliness of old women referred to Gonabad urban health centers. International journal of community based nursing and midwifery, 3(2), p.132.

Charlesworth, A. and Johnson, P., (2018). Securing the future: funding health and social care to the 2030s. Institute for Fiscal Studies, Health Foundation, 3.

Fredman, L., Tennstedt, S., Smyth, K.A., Kasper, J.D., Miller, B., Fritsch, T., Watson, M. and Harris, E.L., (2004). Pragmatic and internal validity issues in sampling in caregiver studies: a comparison of population-based, registry-based, and ancillary studies. Journal of Aging and Health, 16(2), pp.175-203.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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