Study of loneliness can be used to guide public health policy, says TCD expert

Community can make a difference in combating unwanted solitude

People calling to meet the lonely is the simplest, quickest and most cost-effective way of combating unwanted solitude, new research suggests.

The research was carried out by Prof Brian Lawlor of TCD for Age Friendly Ireland. A sample selection of 88 people, whose self-description of themselves as lonely was verified through the application of evidence-based data, was split in two.

The members of one group were visited by volunteers for an hour once a week over three months. Members of the other group carried on as before, without extra external stimulation.

“Essentially, the people who got the intervention were significantly less lonely and felt significantly less sad at the end of the intervention compared to those who did not get the intervention,” said Prof Lawlor.


While the results of the research might appear to confirm popular assumptions, he said, it provided empirical evidence on which public health policy might be fashioned.

He said there was already an abundance of evidence to show that people approaching old age or retirement did better – in terms of their happiness and longevity – if they had interests and kept themselves occupied.

“The public health message here is that loneliness is common, extreme loneliness is not uncommon, and we know there are significant mental health impacts of extreme loneliness. And here’s an intervention, by the community, that can make a difference.”

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh is a contributor to The Irish Times