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Session Overview
RN01_10a: Loneliness in Old Age
Friday, 23/Aug/2019:
2:00pm - 3:30pm

Session Chair: Edward Tolhurst, Staffordshire University
Location: UP.3.204
University of Manchester Building: University Place, Third Floor Oxford Road

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Loneliness Across The Life-Course:Preliminary Findings From The BBC Loneliness Experiment

Christina Victor1, Manuela Barreto2, Matthew Richins2, Alice Eccles3, Pamela Qualter4

1Brunel University London, United Kingdom; 2Exeter University, Exeter, United Kingdom; 3University of Central Lancashire, Preston, United Kingdom; 4Manchester University, Manchester, United Kingdom

The established representation of loneliness in the UK has been as a social problem of old age with very little exploration about how older adults experienced loneliness in earlier stages of their life-course. We use data from the BBC Loneliness Experiment an on-line survey that took place in Spring 2018 and which had 55,000 responses of whom approximately 13,000 were aged 60+ to explore the issue of loneliness across the life-course. Using a self-rating loneliness scale approximately 28% for those aged 60+ report that they are often/always lonely. When using a novel measure that combines frequency, intensity and duration of loneliness the prevalence decreases to approximately 7% of participants in this category. Responses to questions about which period of their life-course has been the loneliest provided by older adults enables us to put loneliness in later life into a broader life-course perspective rather than seeing it in isolation from the rest of the lives of individuals. We conclude by exploring how perceptions of the positive aspects of loneliness increase with age and how this may be linked with the apparent age-related decrease in loneliness and how these novel findings can generate fresh thinking on the topic of loneliness in later life.

Offline and Online Social Networks and their Impact on Loneliness and Wellbeing among Italian Older People: Results from the “Aging in a Networked Society” Study

Daniele Zaccaria, Georgia Casanova, Antonio Guaita

Golgi Cenci Foundation, Italy

In the last decades the study of older people and social networks has been at the core of gerontology research. The literature underlines the positive health effects of traditional and online social connections and also the social network’s positive impact on cognitive performance, mental illness and quality of life.

“Aging in a Networked Society” is a randomized controlled study aimed at investigating the causal impact of offline social networks (more traditional and face-to-face social networks) and online social networks (social relationships developed using SNSs) on older people’ physical health, cognitive functions and well-being.

A social experiment, based on a pre-existing longitudinal study (InveCe study - Brain Aging in Abbiategrasso) has involved 180 older people born from 1935 to 1939 living in Abbiategrasso, a municipality near Milan. We analyse the effects on health and well-being of smartphones and Facebook use (compared to engagement in a more traditional face-to-face activity), exploiting the research potential of four past waves of the InveCe study, which collected information concerning physical, cognitive and mental health using international validate scale, blood samples, genetic markers and information on social networks and socio-demographic characteristics of all participants.

Descriptive and multivariate statistical data analysis are performed using Stata version 15.

Results show that poor social relations and high level of perceived loneliness (measured by Lubben Scale and UCLA Loneliness scale) affect negatively physical and mental outcomes. We also found that gender and marital status mediate the relationship between loneliness and mental wellbeing, while education has not significant effect. Moreover, trial results underline the causal impact of ICT use (smartphones, internet, social network sites) on self-perceived loneliness and cognitive and physical health.

Older Men At The Margins: Loneliness, Isolation And Help-seeking Experiences Of Men (65+) From Marginalised And Hard-to-reach Groups

Paul Willis1, Alex Vickery2

1University of Bristol, United Kingdom; 2University of Bristol, United Kingdom

Social isolation has been flagged as a concern for men in later life and a greater percentage of older men (50+) report moderate to high levels of social isolation in comparison to older women (Beach & Bamford, 2013). In relation to help-seeking, older men are also less likely to report loneliness than older women (Davidson & Rossall, 2014). Despite increasing policy attention on loneliness amongst older populations, there is a dearth of research into men, masculinities and loneliness in later life for men from hard-to-reach groups. In this paper we present findings on older men’s views on combating loneliness, based on the OMAM project which is a 2-year study of men’s experiences of loneliness and social isolation in later life. Between 2017 and 2018, 111 men (65-95 years) took part in semi-structured interviews from hard-to-reach groups across South-West England: men who are single and living alone in rural and urban areas; gay men who are single and living alone; men with hearing loss; and, men who are caring for significant others. Findings indicate that hegemonic masculine discourses of self-reliance and ‘getting on with it’ are still present in older men’s accounts of loneliness and isolation yet seeking out social engagement and participating in group-interventions can also be perceived as taking action and exercising agency. We discuss how the dimensions of social context, circumstance and gender shape men’s experiences of help-seeking, psycho-social barriers to accessing groups and implications for informing provision of community-based services for older men from diverse social backgrounds.

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