Loneliness "a growing public health concern"

Damages health and wellbeing
  • Deborah Condon

One-third of adults over the age of 50 feel lonely at least some of the time and this can have a major impact on their health and quality of life, new research has revealed.

The findings are contained in a new report from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) - an ongoing study of people over the age of 50 in Ireland.

The researchers from Trinity College Dublin (TCD) found that loneliness can be damaging to the health and wellbeing of older adults, with the loneliest adults having a poorer quality of life and poorer health overall. They also report significantly more symptoms of depression.

In fact, over three-quarters of those in the most lonely group reported clinically significant depressive symptoms compared to just 7% of the least lonely group.

The research found that overall, one in three adults over the age of 50 feels lonely at least some of the time and almost one in 10 is socially isolated, having only one or no regular social contacts.

It noted that loneliness appears to decrease between the ages of 50 and 67, before increasing into older age. It is most prevalent in those over the age of 75.

Those with a primary education only are 13% more likely to be in the ‘most lonely' group, and almost twice as likely to be in the 'most isolated' group, compared to those with a third level education.

Meanwhile, those who live alone are almost twice as likely to be in the ‘most lonely' group compared to those who live with others.

Those from rural areas are less likely to be in the ‘most isolated' group than those living in Dublin city or county.

According to TILDA researcher and lead author of the report, Dr Mark Ward, loneliness is a "growing public health concern".

"There is clear evidence that feeling lonely is damaging to the health and wellbeing of older adults. Lonely individuals tend to have poorer health and quality of life, and loneliness is strongly linked to depression. This report provides clear evidence of the need to address loneliness in the older population," he said.

Also commenting on the findings, principal TILDA investigator and report author, Prof Rose Anne Kenny, said that these findings show "the worrying extent of loneliness and isolation among adults aged 50 and older".

"Loneliness is clearly damaging to the health and wellbeing of individuals and it is therefore critical that efforts are made to address this growing problem.

"This new research will help policy makers and others identify the most vulnerable groups in our society. It also highlights the need for healthcare professionals to consider loneliness during clinical assessments of their patients," she said.

The report, Loneliness, Social Isolation, And Their Discordance Among Older Adults, can be viewed here.

 


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