Recognising loneliness in older people

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How to recognise loneliness in older people is a question often asked by local authorities, charity organisations, social care groups, public health teams, and family. Are you worried about a friend or family member or perhaps are yourself wondering about whether you might feel lonely in later life?

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Confess to loneliness

Loneliness is a very subjective and personal experience and there is no ‘fixed’ way to act. However, when thinking about whether parents around you might feel lonely (they could be friends, neighbours, or family), you might want to think about:

Do they live alone

Have they just suffered mourning?

Have they recently suffered, or are suffering, an illness?

How mobile they are

Do they suffer from sensory impairments (maybe hearing or vision loss)

How regularly they leave the house

Do close relatives live near here?

These indicators are all evidence of significant risk of loneliness.

Understand and identify the main risk factors:

There are a number of risk factors that increase one’s vulnerability to, and the likelihood of experiencing, loneliness at an older age. By considering these factors, organizations can build a better understanding of who might be lonely or interested in their services. Risk factors can be:

Demographic / social groups – Although some studies show that women report higher levels of loneliness than men, others find no difference, or that men are at greater risk of experiencing social isolation. However, it is possible that men are less likely to admit feelings of loneliness. Men may be vulnerable to loneliness after the death of a partner. Research also shows that being part of an ethnic or other minority social group can expose people more to loneliness.

Rural or urban environment – focus groups and interviews also underline that lack of transportation (related to rural life) and living in urban areas with high population changes and younger population explosions can lead to fewer opportunities for social interaction and loneliness. Consider whether a park home might suit a person’s needs, being surrounded by people of a similar age and having greater access to social opportunities. For more information on Residential Park Homes, visit

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Have caring responsibilities – More and more people are older in caring roles. While the number of caregivers of all ages in the UK has increased by 11% since 2001, the number of older caregivers has increased by 35%.

Caring for a spouse or relative has been shown to have a negative impact on well-being. The latest data from Carers UK shows that 57% of caregivers have lost contact with their friends. More than three-quarters of nurses aged 60-69 say that caring has a negative impact on their mental health.

Have a diagnosis of dementia – One third of people with dementia have lost friends after their diagnosis, while more than one third of people with dementia experience loneliness. This is more than the figure for parents without dementia, of whom only a quarter (24%) felt lonely last month.

Living on a low income – Poverty and loneliness are interrelated.


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