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Understanding and alleviating loneliness in later life: perspectives of older people

Mary Pat Sullivan (College of Health and Life Sciences, Brunel University London, London, UK)
Christina Rita Victor (College of Health and Life Sciences, Brunel University London, London, UK)
Michael Thomas (School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, University of Kent, Kent, UK)

Quality in Ageing and Older Adults

ISSN: 1471-7794

Article publication date: 12 September 2016




There is extensive empirical literature that has sought to establish the prevalence of, and risk factors for, loneliness and social isolation in later life. Traditional empirical gerontological approaches have characterised loneliness as a linear experience that is both pathological and easily relieved with external intervention. The purpose of this paper is to explore the potential of qualitative interview data to reveal the possible complexities in understanding loneliness, including conceptual considerations for the dynamic and multi-dimensional aspects of loneliness.


The authors draw on two different studies where the purpose was to qualitatively examine the meaning of loneliness in the lives of older people and how they understood loneliness in the context of their daily life (n=37).


Interviews with “lonely” older people revealed that loneliness is a complex and dynamic experience. The authors also identified a range of internal and external factors that contribute to vulnerability for loneliness as well as resources to alleviate it.


The dynamic and multi-dimensional characteristics of loneliness in older people may help explain why community-based interventions to diminish it may be so challenging.



The first study was funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council (L480254042) as part of the Growing Older Programme. Financial support to undertake the pilot study was provided by the Brunel University London. The authors also wish to express their thanks to those people who participated in both the studies.


Sullivan, M.P., Victor, C.R. and Thomas, M. (2016), "Understanding and alleviating loneliness in later life: perspectives of older people", Quality in Ageing and Older Adults, Vol. 17 No. 3, pp. 168-178.



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Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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