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02 Aug 2016

Fears of loneliness in old age are largely unfounded

We shouldn’t fear a lonely old age because loneliness is far from inevitable, according to a study funded by the ESRC. See more here: http://www.esrc.ac.uk/news-events-and-publications/news/news-items/fears-of-loneliness-in-old-age-are-largely-unfounded/

 

Using data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA), Professor Christina Victor’s research suggests only 10 per cent of people over 50 complain of significant loneliness – a figure which has remained unchanged since the 1940s.

 

“One of the major stereotypes prevalent in our society is that old age is almost guaranteed to be a time of loneliness,” suggests Professor Victor, from Brunel University London.

 

“One of our most interesting findings is that expectations of loneliness are strongly associated with loneliness outcomes,” she explains. 

 

“In other words, loneliness is almost a self-fulfilling prophecy: those who believed that loneliness was a normal part of ageing, were more likely experience loneliness as they grew older.”

 

And while pets do not necessarily protect against loneliness, strong social networks certainly do.

 

“What this research tells us is that the stereotype of lonely old age is harmful,” she concludes. “We need to adopt a positive outlook on old age and take care to tend social relationships that are meaningful to us throughout our lives. For the minority who are lonely, policymakers need to appreciate the nuances and differences in loneliness to ensure support is targeted and not one-size-fits-all.”

 

The study has contributed to the NICE guidelines for Mental wellbeing and independence in older people https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng32