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Interventions to address the social needs of older adults should focus on their desire for connectedness, participation and independence

Bruggencate TT, Luijkx KG, Sturm J.  Social needs of older people: A systematic literature review  Ageing and Society. 2018; 38(9): 1745-1770.

Review question

•    What are the social needs of older people and what are the characteristics of effective interventions aimed at satisfying these needs?


      Defined as the basic human need for love, acceptance and belonging, social needs are one of the most important human needs.

      Active social lives and meaningful social relationships have been found to be amongst the most important determinants of successful aging. When social needs are not satisfied, loneliness and social isolation can develop.

      This systematic review examined the evidence about the social needs of older adults, and subsequently, the characteristics of effective interventions for satisfying older adults’ social needs.

How the review was done

      Authors screened the titles and abstracts of 2,270 records after a detailed search of two research databases: PsycInfo and Sociological Abstracts.

      Qualitative and quantitative studies published from 2005 to 2016 examining the social needs of older adults were eligible for inclusion.

      A total of 15 studies were included in the review after assessing their eligibility. 

      Authors did not report any specific funding for this review.

What the researchers found

      Older adults want to play active and meaningful roles in their lives, including as part of a social network, a neighbourhood, and a community. Service providers and policymakers must consider that a lack of meaning (or sense of purpose) can become problematic as people age.

      The most important considerations for creating and implementing interventions that may help older adults satisfy their social needs are: 1) promoting active involvement; 2) showing respect; 3) stimulating social contacts; and 4) sharing knowledge.

      To promote active involvement, studies suggested engaging older adults in leisure activities and volunteer work. Older adults want to stay active and contribute to society in a reciprocal manner (meaning that they want to exchange their services and skills with others for the mutual benefit of the neighbourhood or community).

      Showing greater respect to older adults can be done in several ways : acknowledging and putting to use the talents and skills of older adults; creating intergenerational initiatives; and allowing older adults to stay active and independent for as long as possible.

      To stimulate social contacts, neighbourhood initiatives can be developed. Social meeting places, such as pubs and churches can help to foster the development of close and peripheral relationships.


      The review found a great deal of evidence to support the importance of addressing social needs among older adults, mostly their desire for connectedness, participation and independence.


Systematic review
A comprehensive evaluation of the available research evidence on a particular topic.

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