Fresh research contradicts rise of old-age loneliness
The rise of old-age loneliness has been exaggerated and elderly people are no lonelier than they were in the 1940s, academic research has found.
Research carried out by Brunel University London argues that elderly people are not living in mass isolation.
Isolation among the elderly has crept up the news agenda over the last few years, with Age UK estimating two million over-75s live alone in England, and half of them say they frequently go for at least a month without any contact with friends, neighbours or relatives.
Christina Victor, the university’s professor of gerontology and public health, also claims that the common practice of sending “befrienders” to visit the lonely is unlikely to make any difference in many cases, because the condition varies so much from person to person.
She and her colleagues studied data on 4,500 people over the age of 50 who had taken part in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing since 2002.
“One of the major stereotypes prevalent in our society is that old age is almost guaranteed to be a time of loneliness,” Professor Victor said.
“Interestingly, our findings indicate this ‘lonely’ group is made up of three distinct sub-groups. For half of them loneliness appears to have been established for at least ten years and is, we suspect, possibly a lifelong experience.
“Then we have ‘lonely’ people who are moving into loneliness — possibly due to a bereavement — and those moving out of loneliness, perhaps because they have adjusted to changed circumstances. Crucially, lonely people are not a heterogeneous group.
“To be blunt, sending a befriender to visit a person who has a lifelong experience of loneliness is unlikely to make a jot of difference.”