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An investigation into the patterns of loneliness and loss in the oldest old – Newcastle 85+ Study

  • KATIE BRITTAIN (a1) (a2), ANDREW KINGSTON (a1) (a2), KAREN DAVIES (a1) (a2), JOANNA COLLERTON (a1) (a2), LOUISE A. ROBINSON (a1) (a2), THOMAS B. L. KIRKWOOD (a2) (a3), JOHN BOND (a1) (a2) and CAROL JAGGER (a1) (a2)...

Abstract

Old age is often characterised as being associated with neglect, isolation and loneliness, not least since established risks factors for loneliness include widowhood, living alone, depression and being female. Cross-sectional data have challenged the notion that loneliness is especially an old-age phenomenon but longitudinal data on loneliness is scarce. Moreover, an under-represented group in prior studies are the oldest old, those aged 85 years and more. This paper addresses these knowledge gaps using data from the Newcastle 85+ Study, a large population-based cohort aged 85 years at first interview with follow-up interviews at 18 months and three years. At baseline over half (55%) reported being always or often alone, and 41 per cent reported feeling more lonely than ten years previously, although only 2 per cent reported always feeling lonely. Women spent more time alone than men and reported more loneliness both currently and compared to the past. Length of widowhood was a key factor, with those recently widowed having twice the risk of feeling lonely and those widowed for five or more years having a lower risk of reporting increased loneliness. Overall, the findings show that loneliness is a minority experience in the oldest old but is strongly driven by length of widowhood, challenging the notion that loneliness in later life is a static experience.

Copyright

Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Katie Brittain, Institute of Health and Society, Newcastle University, Baddiley-Clark Building, Richardson Road, Newcastle upon Tyne NE2 4AX, UK. E-mail: katie.brittain@newcastle.ac.uk

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