Health and wellbeing consequences of social isolation in old age: a scoping study

Principal investigator(s):
Martin Knapp
Emilie Courtin
Start year:
End year:

An increasing number of older people in the UK are living alone and consequently an increasing number are at risk of being socially isolated. Social isolation has been identified as a risk factor for poor health (especially poor mental health) and lower wellbeing, including morbidity and mortality, loneliness, depression and cognitive decline. Older people who are socially isolated are also more vulnerable to the complicating effects of unforeseen events such as falls. Because older people who are isolated have smaller networks of relatives, neighbours and friends, they have less (unpaid/informal) support to fall back on to help meet their social care or other needs; and they may not access the appropriate formal health and social care services, which in turn could have deleterious longer-term consequences.

Numerous interventions have been suggested as ways to reduce social isolation and develop the social networks of older people. However, the notion of social isolation itself, its drivers, and the pathways through which it affects health and wellbeing over time are not well-understood. In addition, the evidence base in support of these interventions is often hindered by weak methodologies and conceptual definitions.

The aim of this scoping study is to review the evidence on social isolation, its impact on health, wellbeing and service use and the methodological challenges associated with the evaluation of interventions in this area. It is expected that the scoping study will inform the design of interventions and describe the characteristics of the individuals who may benefit from them.


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