Why aren't all old people lonely? A comparative analysis of European Union

Principal investigator: Christina Victor

Co-investigator(s)

Prof Ann Bowling, University of Southampton

Funding body

Dunhill Medical Trust

Summary

Loneliness is perceived as being a significant problem of old age; 45% of those aged 50+ see old age as a time of loneliness and a similar percentage expect to become lonely as they grow old. However only 10% of those aged 65+ experience chronic loneliness. Our project will focus on the vast majority of older people who do not become lonely in later life, in Britain and Europe, in order to identify the protective factors to underpin more effective policy and practice solutions.

Project description

Approximately 10% of those aged 65+ In Britain experience chronic loneliness meaning that the majority, 90%, of the 9 million people in this age group are not lonely. We know a lot about the factors that make older people vulnerable to loneliness and the negative consequences of loneliness for the individual and society. Most interventions against loneliness are ineffective. We think this is because research has focused upon what makes older people vulnerable to loneliness rather than on the factors that prevent loneliness. Our study will identify the factors that protect older people from loneliness; consider if these are specific to particular countries by comparing England and Europe using two large longitudinal studies of ageing: ELSA (English Longitudinal Study of Ageing) and SHARE (Survey of Ageing, Health and Retirement Europe) and test the importance of these factors with older people, policy makers and practitioners as a basis for developing interventions against loneliness. 

Impact statement

Loneliness in later life has significant negative consequences for individuals (elevated rates of mortality and morbidity ) and society (‘inappropriate’ service use) but there are no effective interventions. We aim to ‘reframe’ the debate about loneliness by: (a) focussing on those who do not become lonely (b) identifying factors that ‘protect’ against loneliness; (c) considering how these may vary across European countries; (d) considering how these factors may form the basis of developing new interventions against loneliness as a means of mitigating these negative outcomes. Involving older people, policy makers and practitioners in the evaluation of these we will generate key components of potentially novel interventions to combat loneliness in later life. Our knowledge mobilisation links with Campaign to End Loneliness will ensure these are effectively communicated with local/national policy makers and practitioners potentially benefiting both the quality and quantity of older peoples’ lives by the development of appropriate interventions. 

Page last updated: Monday 21 March 2016