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Social contacts are key to decrease loneliness among older adults

O’Rourke H, Collins L, Souraya S. Interventions to address social connectedness and loneliness for older adults: A scoping review BMC Geriatrics. 2018; 18(1): 214.

Review question

•    What interventions and strategies can address loneliness and social connectedness among older adults?

Background

      Older adults are at an increased risk for loneliness compared to the general population.

      Health factors include chronic disease experiences that interfere with functioning, and cognitive decline resulting in communication impairments, and the inability to remember significant others or recent interactions with them.

      Contextual factors relate to lacking someone you could talk to, relocation to a care facility, loss of loved ones due to death, and spending too much time alone or doing nothing, which causes feelings of separation from others.

      Lonely people are at risk for poor health and wellbeing outcomes, including poor life satisfaction, depression, low self-esteem, reduced hope, negative emotions, and impaired functions in daily activities.

      Interventions to promote social connectedness are needed to address this problem.

      This systematic review was conducted to map the literature on interventions and strategies to address loneliness and social connectedness among older adults.

How the review was done

      A comprehensive literature search was conducted in six electronic databases.

      5,530 papers were identified, of which 54 were included in this review after assessing their eligibility.

      Data on interventions, strategies, and their associated contexts were extracted for analysis.

      The main author of this review was supported by a Canadian Institutes of Health Research postdoctoral fellowship.

What the researchers found

      Researchers found 39 studies describing or evaluated interventions, and five studies that described strategies to decrease loneliness in older adults or their caregivers.

      The studies were mostly conducted in the United States among community-dwelling, cognitively intact older adults. Only a few studies examined the effect of these interventions and strategies on non-white participants.

      Strategies described most often were engaging in purposeful activity and maintaining contact with each participant’s social network (in other words, their personal network of social interactions and relationships).

      Nine types of interventions were identified, the most frequently described being one-to-one personal contacts and group activities.

      Studies revealed mixed evidence about how these interventions and strategies influenced loneliness and social connectedness. However, social contacts were the most frequently identified influencing factor.

Conclusion

      Findings from this review identified interventions and strategies that have been designed to address loneliness and social connectedness for older adults.

      Research to test the various theories of why interventions and strategies work is needed to advance understanding of how address loneliness and social connectedness.




Glossary

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

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