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All the lonely people, where do they all belong? An interpretive synthesis of loneliness and social support in older lesbian, gay and bisexual communities

Julie Fish (Division of Social Work, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK)
Christina Weis (School of Applied Social Sciences, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK)

Quality in Ageing and Older Adults

ISSN: 1471-7794

Article publication date: 29 August 2019

Issue publication date: 21 October 2019




Loneliness is a phenomenon which affects people globally and constitutes a key social issue of our time. Yet few studies have considered the nature of loneliness and social support for older lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people; this is of particular concern as they are among the social groups said to be at greater risk. The paper aims to discuss this issue.


Peer-reviewed literature was identified through a search of Scopus, PsycINFO and PubMed. A total of 2,277 papers were retrieved including qualitative and quantitative studies which were quality assessed using the Critical Appraisal Skills Programme.


In total, 11 papers were included in the review and findings were synthesised using thematic analysis. The studies were conducted in five countries worldwide with a combined sample size of 53,332 participants, of whom 4,288 were drawn from among LGB communities. The characteristics and circumstances associated with loneliness including living arrangements, housing tenure, minority stress and geographical proximity.

Research limitations/implications

The review suggests that among older LGB people, living alone, not being partnered and being childfree may increase the risk of loneliness. This cohort of older people may experience greater difficulties in building relationships of trust and openness. They may also have relied on sources of identity-based social support that are in steep decline. Future research should include implementation studies to evaluate effective strategies in reducing loneliness among older LGB people.

Practical implications

Reaching older LGB people who are vulnerable due to physical mobility or rural isolation and loneliness because of bereavement or being a carer is a concern. A range of interventions including individual (befriending), group-based (for social contact) in addition to potential benefits from the Internet of Things should be evaluated. Discussions with the VCS suggest that take up of existing provision is 85:15 GB men vs LB women.

Social implications

Formal social support structures which were provided by voluntary sector agencies have been disproportionately affected by recent austerity measures.


The authors sought to interrogate the tension between findings of lower levels of social support and discourses of resilient care offered by families of choice.



Funding: This study was funded through the Institute of Health, Health Policy and Social Care at De Montfort University. The design and conduct of the study are the work of the authors.


Fish, J. and Weis, C. (2019), "All the lonely people, where do they all belong? An interpretive synthesis of loneliness and social support in older lesbian, gay and bisexual communities", Quality in Ageing and Older Adults, Vol. 20 No. 3, pp. 130-142.



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