Ageing and Society

Research Article

The experience of social and emotional loneliness among older people in Ireland

JONATHAN DRENNANa1 c1, MARGARET TREACYa1, MICHELLE BUTLERa1, ANNE BYRNEa1, GERARD FEALYa1, KATE FRAZERa1 and KATE IRVINGa1

a1 School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Sciences, University College Dublin, Ireland.

ABSTRACT

This paper reports a study of the risk factors for social and emotional loneliness among older people in Ireland. Using the ‘Social and Emotional Scale for Adults’, the social and emotional dimensions of loneliness were measured. Emotional loneliness was conceptualised as having elements of both family loneliness and romantic loneliness. The data were collected through a national telephone survey of loneliness in older people conducted in 2004 that completed interviews with 683 people aged 65 or more years. It was found that levels of social and family loneliness were low, but that romantic loneliness was relatively high. Predictors for social loneliness were identified as greater age, poorer health, living in a rural area, and lack of contact with friends. Living in a rural setting, gender (male), having a lower income, being widowed, no access to transport, infrequent contact with children and relatives and caring for a spouse or relative at home were significant predictors of family loneliness. Romantic loneliness was predicted by marital status, in particular being widowed. Never having married or being divorced or separated were also significant predictors for romantic loneliness. The findings indicate that loneliness for older people is variable, multi-dimensional and experienced differently according to life events, with, for example, the death of a partner being followed by the experience of emotional loneliness, or the loss of friends or declining health leading to social loneliness.

(Accepted April 10 2008)

Correspondence:

c1 Address for correspondence: Jonathan Drennan, School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Systems, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland. E-mail: Jonathan.Drennan@ucd.ie