Last week Stonewall publicised research findings that indicated lesbian, gay and bisexual people in Britain were more likely to be lonelier in older age than heterosexual people. This was, they concluded, because they were more likely to live alone, be childless and have less contact with family as they grew older.
There are factors that can indicate whether an individual is at risk of being, or becoming, lonely. Social gerontologists in Amsterdam for example have identified living alone, having no children and deteriorating health as potential determinants of loneliness. When these risk factors combine (as the Stonewall report reminded us) a person may be increasingly vulnerable to suffering from loneliness.
There is an ongoing debate around how these circumstances can be used to identify loneliness in older age: living alone or having a combination of risk factors does not by any means guarantee loneliness. We also lack an evidence-based consensus on how potential triggers for loneliness could be used to instead support individuals ‘at risk’ or what services will even help.
Here at the Campaign, therefore, we have a sometimes difficult balance to strike. We want our work to reflect the important fact that loneliness will always be a very individual emotional state and, as such, things that cause and alleviate it will always vary from person to person.
However, this is balanced by our desire to develop broad understanding of the issue and what interventions will actively work (not just what we think should work) so risk factors or points of transition will always be considered. They remain an important starting point for building, and consolidating, the evidence-based for all work to reduce loneliness in older age.
The Campaign to End Loneliness has a regular Research Bulletin to keep supporters updated of the work of our Research Hub and other related research or initiatives on loneliness and social isolation. If you would like to receive a copy, simply email us at email@example.com.
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