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Addressing loneliness and isolation in retirement housing



Loneliness is a significant health risk for older people, linked with bereavement, living alone and declining health. Previous research suggests loneliness is common amongst residents of English retirement housing, who show a relatively high incidence of these factors. This invites the question, what can providers of retirement housing do to help their residents avoid loneliness, thus remaining healthier and less likely to need care services? Through a survey of 326 retirement-estate managers, we investigate the role of staff and residents' groups in developing organised social activities for residents in retirement housing, and the potential of these activities for generating social contacts which may provide a pathway to avoid loneliness. The survey was informed by a literature review with two objectives: firstly, to consider the nature and causes of loneliness amongst older people and how these apply to retirement housing residents; secondly, to identify good practice models of previous interventions designed to widen social interactions for older people or provide emotional support. The sample was drawn from the all-England property portfolio of a major provider of retirement housing for people over 55. The sampled estates, mostly social rented but including some with a mixture of leasehold and rented dwellings, represent a sector also described as sheltered or supported housing, which has over 550,000 dwellings in the United Kingdom. It is characterised by having some form of staff support for people who are frail, immobile or isolated, such that they may occasionally need help available on call. In the literature review, we consider how different kinds of social contact can help develop friendships and meet social support needs, in retirement housing and elsewhere – in particular, organised group activities (clubs, classes, etc.) and specific interventions designed to address loneliness. The fieldwork suggests that organised activities in retirement housing have considerable potential to meet residents' social support needs, but that this potential is often not fully realised. A wider range of activities is needed, which may require the support of housing management staff, volunteers and community organisations.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Anne Gray, Visiting Research Scholar, Weeks Centre for Social and Policy Research, South Bank University, 103 Borough Road, London SE1 0AA, UK E-mail:


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