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Strategies employed by older people to manage loneliness: systematic review of qualitative studies and model development

  • Kalpa Kharicha (a1), Jill Manthorpe (a2), Steve Iliffe (a1), Nathan Davies (a1) and Kate Walters (a1)...

Abstract

Objectives:

To (i) systematically identify and review strategies employed by community dwelling lonely older people to manage their loneliness and (ii) develop a model for managing loneliness.

Methods:

A narrative synthesis review of English-language qualitative evidence, following Economic and Social Research Council guidance. Seven electronic databases were searched (1990–January 2017). The narrative synthesis included tabulation, thematic analysis, and conceptual model development. All co-authors assessed eligibility of final papers and reached a consensus on analytic themes.

Results:

From 3,043 records, 11 studies were eligible including a total of 502 older people. Strategies employed to manage loneliness can be described by a model with two overarching dimensions, one related to the context of coping (alone or with/in reference to others), the other related to strategy type (prevention/action or acceptance/endurance of loneliness). The dynamic and subjective nature of loneliness is reflected in the variety of coping mechanisms, drawing on individual coping styles and highlighting considerable efforts in managing time, contacting others, and keeping loneliness hidden. Cognitive strategies were used to re-frame negative feelings, to make them more manageable or to shift the focus from the present or themselves. Few unsuccessful strategies were described.

Conclusion:

Strategies to manage loneliness vary from prevention/action through to acceptance and endurance. There are distinct preferences to cope alone or involve others; only those in the latter category are likely to engage with services and social activities. Older people who deal with their loneliness privately may find it difficult to articulate an inability to cope.

Copyright

Corresponding author

Correspondence should be addressed to: Kalpa Kharicha, Department of Primary Care and Population Health, University College London, Royal Free Campus, Rowland Hill Street, London NW3 2PF, UK. Phone: 020 7830 2392. Email: k.kharicha@ucl.ac.uk Orcid: 0000-0002-2975-2084.

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