New research from The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA), a research centre based in Trinity, has found that one in three adults in Ireland aged 50 or older experience loneliness, with their health and wellbeing suffering as a result.
TILDA researchers found that loneliness was more prevalent among particular groups including people aged over 75 years and those who live alone.
Participants who reported the highest levels of loneliness reported significantly more depressive symptoms than those who experienced relatively fewer feelings of loneliness. This was the case for both subjective loneliness and objective social isolation.
Almost 10 per cent of older adults in Ireland were found to be socially isolated, which the report defined as having one or fewer regular social contacts.
In a press statement, Dr Mark Ward, a TILDA researcher, said that loneliness is “a growing public health concern”.
“This report highlights the fact that certain groups of older adults are particularly vulnerable to loneliness and social isolation”, he said. “In particular, older adults who live alone are more socially isolated and report greater feelings of loneliness.”
The findings provide “clear evidence of the need to address loneliness in the older population. This is particularly important as we strive to make Ireland the ‘best place in the world to grow older’”, Ward added.
Older adults in Ireland with primary education only were found to be 13 per cent more likely to be in the “most lonely” group in comparison to those with third-level education. Those with primary education alone were also more likely to be in the “most isolated” group than those with third level.
In a press statement, Prof Rose Anne Kenny, the principal investigator of TILDA and an author of the report, said: “This new research will help policy makers and others identify the most vulnerable groups in our society. This research also highlights the need for healthcare professionals to consider loneliness during clinical assessments of their patients.”
Prof Richard Layte, Head of Sociology at Trinity College Dublin and co-author of the report added: “The TILDA study provides concrete evidence that regular social contact with others who understand and care for us is integral to health and well-being. Being lonely has both physical as well as psychological consequences which then emerge each day in GP surgeries and hospitals.”
“Loneliness”, he said, “is a public health issue that can be tackled through community action and public policy”.