There is a growing evidence base around the challenge of loneliness, and the we base all of our campaigning on this evidence, by drawing on the Research Hub; an international network of university academics, other researchers and practitioners working to increase and develop the evidence base on the issue of loneliness in older age.
Loneliness and social isolation in the United Kingdom
- Over 9 million people in the UK – almost a fifth of the population – say they are always or often lonely, but almost two thirds feel uncomfortable admitting to it (British Red Cross and Co-Op, 2016)
- Over half (51%) of all people aged 75 and over live alone (ONS, 2010)
- Two fifths all older people (about 3.9 million) say the television is their main company (Age UK, 2014)
- 63% of adults aged 52 or over who have been widowed, and 51% of the same group who are separated or divorced report, feeling lonely some of the time or often (Beaumont, 2013)
- 59% of adults aged over 52 who report poor health say they feel lonely some of the time or often, compared to 21% who say they are in excellent health (Beaumont, 2013)
- A higher percentage of women than men report feeling lonely some of the time or often (Beaumont, 2013)
- 17% of older people are in contact with family, friends and neighbours less than once a week and 11% are in contact less than once a month (Victor et al, 2003)
The impact of loneliness on our health
Loneliness is a bigger problem than simply an emotional experience.
Research shows that loneliness and social isolation are harmful to our health: lacking social connections is a comparable risk factor for early death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and is worse for us than well-known risk factors such as obesity and physical inactivity.
Loneliness increases the likelihood of mortality by 26%.
What works in tackling loneliness?
We are often asked this question, but older people are not a homogeneous group, and solutions are often not possible to standardise. This is an area of research that needs more work and debate. The most robust piece of research on this so far (Cattan, 2005) concludes there are three broad characteristics of a good loneliness intervention:
- Start with individual – their interests, the type of experience they are facing: isolation or loneliness?
- Involve each person in shaping the activity
- There is more academically-robust-evidence that group interventions work at present, yet individual activities should still be tried and tested further
Resources and reading
Publications that summarise the evidence base on loneliness include:
- Loneliness – The State We’re In
- Safeguarding the Convoy
- Tackling Loneliness – A Role for the Arts
- SCIE Research Briefing 39: Preventing loneliness and isolation: interventions and outcomes
The facts on loneliness
If you’d like to know more, read our guide, the facts on loneliness.