What do we know about reducing loneliness?

We all experience loneliness in different ways, and it can affect us at different stages and transition points in life. Tackling loneliness is a ‘review of reviews’  that is based on a sift of 364 evidence reviews from across the world, and within the UK.  It’s a first step towards understanding what we know about what works to reduce loneliness.

What does the review look at?

The review looks at a range of evidence that met a rigorous standard

The review is the first of its kind to establish what we know about loneliness and effective ways to tackle it. It is a first step to develop the evidence, revealing big gaps in the current evidence base. It is important to remember that these findings only cover the interventions included in the studies looked at by the review. 

Leisure activities

Physical activity, music, gardening

Therapies

Animal assisted therapy, reminiscence therapy, humour therapy, cognitive enhancement

Educational approaches

relationship training, self-management, skills training

Social and community interventions

Community sharing/companionship, advice and signposting services

Know of any evaluations on interventions to reduce loneliness?

We are now looking to develop the evidence that exists for all approaches that reduce loneliness, with any population . If you know of any evaluations – whether published or currently happening – drop us an email.

Tell us about an evaluation

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we are building the evidence base

More, large-scale, controlled studies would allow us to draw solid conclusions.

We are working to improve, build up and track progress of the evidence base so there is greater understanding of what works to reduce loneliness for different groups in society.  This includes evaluations of projects that have happened, are currently underway, or that will take place in the future.

Who’s more likely to be affected?

Anyone can be impacted by loneliness, but evidence shows us there are risk factors.

The ONS has reported that:

  • 5% UK populations that report feeling always or often lonely. Those who reported loneliness were most likely to share the following characteristics:
    • 16-24 year olds
    • women
    • single/widowed people
    • those with poor health
    • renters
    • report no neighbourhood belonging or little trust of others.
  • 55% of people in the UK report never or hardly ever lonely, 24% occasionally, 16% sometimes.

More about the review

This ‘review of reviews’ begins the process of mapping the evidence base and identifying the potential gaps and areas to focus on.

The review aimed to answer the question: What is the effectiveness of interventions to alleviate loneliness in people of all ages across the life-course?

Tell us about an evaluation

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What is a 'review of reviews'?

A systematic ‘review of reviews’ summaries the evidence from more than one systematic review on a topic. A systematic review looks at all published studies that meet the search criteria. This makes it robust and comprehensive summary of all existing research in this area.

This review also includes grey literature: evaluations of interventions that took place since 2008.

What studies were included?

Published studies were only included in the review of reviews if they:

  • were published in the last 10 years
  • used controlled designs – the choice to use the most robust design possible allowed us to minimise bias
  • measured loneliness and reported on this outcome.

Findings are from the USA, the Netherlands, Finland, Japan, New Zealand, Sweden, Taiwan and the UK, and unpublished papers from England, Wales, Scotland and Switzerland.

What do we mean by loneliness?

Loneliness is the gap between our desired and actual relationships with others. It’s a subjective experience: we can feel lonely regardless of how many people we consider friends or acquaintances, and how often we have contact with them. It’s different to being socially isolated, which is where we lack the ability, opportunity or resources to connect with others.

What studies were included?

Published research

Types of studies

We included systematic reviews of either qualitative studies or quantitative comparative studies i.e. with concurrent or historical controls. We included reviews reported within the last 10 years and published in any language. To meet the definition of a systematic review, we only included reviews that achieve a judgement of “Yes” on the third criterion on the AMSTAR tool for assessing the quality of systematic reviews (Shea 2007): “Was a comprehensive literature search performed?” as we consider this a minimum requirement for a review to be considered ‘systematic’. Our minimum criteria for considering a search “systematic” are that authors must have searched at least 2 electronic databases using a clear search strategy and screened the reference lists of identified studies.

Types of outcome measure

To be included, reviews needed to have measured loneliness as our focus was on loneliness not isolation. We required studies to report and demonstrate empirically the measure of loneliness used. This enables a range of measures to be used including recognised scales specifically designed to measure loneliness, domains measuring loneliness within broader wellbeing outcome measures and self-rating scales.

Comparison

We only included quantitative data where there is comparison data from a control group (i.e. no intervention or usual care).

Unpublished research
Grey literature was included if it was an evaluation report measuring loneliness outcomes and/or evaluated the processes and/or mechanism by which loneliness outcomes are achieved. Grey literature was included if the evaluation methods were qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods and the report was completed within the last 10 years (2008-2018).

Findings are from the USA, the Netherlands, Finland, Japan, New Zealand, Sweden, Taiwan and the UK, and unpublished papers from England, Wales, Scotland and Switzerland.

Why isn't cost effectiveness included?

Information on cost and quality of specific approaches wasn’t always present or reported in a consistent manner in the reviews included. As a result, we are unable to provide insight on these factors. However, this review provides us with the initial information that can be further developed to achieve greater clarity.