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Evidence Summary

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There are several promising, but no definitive programs for reducing loneliness and social isolation among older adults

Poscia A, Stojanovic J, Iganzio La Milia D, et al.  Interventions targeting loneliness and social isolation among the older people: An update systematic review  Experimental Gerontology. 2018, 102: 133-144.

Review question

•    Which programs effectively reduce feelings of loneliness and social isolation among older adults? 

Background

      One in six older adults experience intense feelings of loneliness and social isolation (which refers to a lack of meaningful interactions). This can reduce their quality of life as well as their physical and mental well-being.

      Several programs are targeting loneliness and social isolation among older adults, in order to improve their health and their functional capacities. This is especially important as the world population ages and the burden of disease associated with aging increases.

How the review was done

      A detailed search of a number of electronic databases for studies published from 2011 to 2016 was conducted. Studies that examined programs for reducing loneliness and/or social isolation among older adults were included in the review.

      A total of 1,815 studies were identified, and 20 were included in the review after assessing their eligibility.

      This review was funded by the European Union through the Pro-Health 65+ project.

What the researchers found

      The studies included in this systematic review examined many different programs, making it difficult to directly compare them to one another. Most of the studies were of low quality, and study participants may not have been representative of the general older population.

      The most promising programs had multiple components, such as recreational activities, social support services, and activities offering the opportunity for older adults to spend time reminiscing.

      Programs that involved technology, like interacting with a robot companion or learning how to navigate the internet, also showed promising results.

      Programs that took advantage of pre-existing services such as volunteer organizations were more effective, and potentially more sustainable, than other programs.

      Participatory art programs may be especially helpful for older adults with sensory impairments.

Conclusion

      While the authors were able to identify a few potential characteristics of programs that effectively reduce feelings of loneliness and/or social isolation, they were ultimately unable to make firm recommendations due to the low quality and applicability of the included studies.




Glossary

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

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