Exploration of health risks associated with social isolation.

Modern society is changing the way we live, work and relate to each other. Digitalization is eliminating the need for everyday social interactions and consequently, issues such as social isolation and loneliness are becoming pressing public health problems. Older adults are particularly susceptible to social isolation due to a number of factors such as retirement, bereavement, loss of social contacts, declining health conditions, and other age-related major life transitions. Adverse health effects of social isolation are well established at older age, including early mortality1-3. Thus, whilst people are living longer, the quality of life experienced does not necessarily correspond with the increase in life expectancy years. This is made more problematic by global trends of a rapidly ageing population.

Furthermore, although adverse health effects of social isolation have been reported in older age, less evidence exists for how this effects younger age groups4. Childline have reported increased usage of their mental health services5 specifically in relation to feelings of loneliness and recent survey data shows high prevalence of isolation in all age categories6. However, empirical studies in this area are lacking and particularly in relation to how it is distributed in terms of known risk factors such as sex, age group, existing health conditions and residence in rural areas which is of particular interest for a geographical area like Northern Ireland.

Therefore, we aim to explore the prevalence of social isolation in within Northern Ireland, the primary risk factors and how it associates with general health and mortality risk.

Research Team: Estelle Lowry, Jenny Groake, Alan Mitchell, Laura Stoops
Database: NILS
Project Status: Active
Organisation(s): Queens University Belfast, Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, AgeNI