Let's talk about alonenesses: What does the evidence point to?. Main reflections and findings of the Bakardadeak study
A few weeks ago, in this same blog, we reflected on a complex and nuanced phenomenon such as "loneliness", raising some questions that led us to carry out a study on this subject. The relationship between the different realities covered by that term, the cultural component of this experience, its stigma or its link presented as causal with certain health problems were some of the ideas covered in that post
In order to try to answer the questions we were wondering, we started a research project on loneliness, in which, by tackling the multidimensionality of the concept, we advocated the generation of in-depth and contextualised knowledge with the aim of moving towards a different and effective approach to its different facets of people ageing in Gipuzkoa. As a result, we carried out a study consisting of five workpackages.
- The starting point was a literature review of scientific documentation on the subject, in which we analysed the concepts of solitude,loneliness, and others related to it, as well as the types of interventions implemented to address it.
- This was followed by a qualitative study to explore the social representations, perceptions and motives associated with solitude in all its facets.
- Subsequently, a quantitative study analysed the existing profiles in the territory, providing the prevalence of loneliness among people aged 55 and over in Gipuzkoa and investigating its differentiating characteristics.
- We also carried out an evaluation of the impact of some interventions carried out by voluntary action initiatives that accompany people feeling loneliness or generate support networks in the neighbourhood to alleviate these feelings.
- Finally, building on the findings of the previous phases of the project, we proposed a basis for the development and design of a political strategy to address loneliness.
Given the magnitude of the information and results obtained, we have made an effort to summarise the main findings of this study, which are explained below.
Firstly, the approach made through the literature review has allowed us to know the progress made in its study and intervention in the field of gerontology. Although it is recognised the existence of differences among the aspects of solitude, it is common to find an interchangeable use of concepts or phenomena such as living alone, social isolation and loneliness. Furthermore, as some authors defend, a universal understanding, meaning and experience of loneliness is implicitly assumed, i.e. that all people interpret and feel loneliness in the same way, or that this experience is homogeneous, static or linear.
Conclusions such as those above corroborated the need for a qualitative study exploring the experiential dimension of feeling lonely in old age, especially in a phenomenon with such a strong cultural component. The results of this qualitative analysis suggest that the experience of loneliness is not a specific and defined phenomenon, i.e. it is not unique and universal. People may experience loneliness in different ways because, as it is often said, people alsofeel lonely even when surrounded by people.
The analysis of the profiles included in this study suggests that this phenomenon is not strictly relational; in it, loss, understood in a broad and generic sense (from the loss of reference persons or one's health, to the loss of purpose in life), is one of the most common triggers. This study also identified meaningful activity as a key indicator of loneliness. People who feel lonely often express difficulties in ordering their days on the basis of activities that are relevant, meaningful to them.
In the quantitative research taking a sample of 2050* people, based on stratified random sampling, one of the main aims was to establish the prevalence data of loneliness. Thus, 5.5% of people aged 55 and over in Gipuzkoa declared feelings of loneliness, i.e., they were people who felt lonely very or quite often. The figure is somewhat lower in men than in women (3.7% of them compared to 7% of women) and in the younger generations with respect to the oldest ones. On the other hand, the number of people living alone in Gipuzkoa is 27.3%, being 72.4% women and almost 40%, aged 80 and over.
Of course, we analysed the socio-demographic profile of those people feeling lonely, including relevant aspects such as marital status, economic situation or educational level, as well as issues such as health, housing, activities or the experience of loneliness.
Despite we hope to share some findings more in depth in upcoming issues of this blog, we believe it is necessary to highlight the link found between having a poor family and friends network and the perception of loneliness. One outstanding result of this study, corresponding to social isolation, shows that it is mainly a poor network of friendships which constitute a predictor of loneliness. Thus those people who reported being socially isolated from their friends are more likely to feel lonely. This could be closely linked to the importance of "crews" in Gipuzkoan culture.
In the study which analyses the impact of the interventions aiming to tackle loneliness, such as Nagusilan and Adinkide, collaborating entities in this project, we opted for a co-production approach. Anevaluation framework or protocol was jointly designed and developed with the people who are in the action, which can be used in the future as a basis for evaluation. The impact of the interventions on people's lives was tested with the evaluation protocol, integrating the results obtained with qualitative and quantitative techniques. The results seem to suggest that this type of interventions may lead to a decrease in feelings of loneliness, emotional improvements and an increase in social relations.
This is just an extraction of some interesting findings from the Bakardadeak study. In this framework and supported by the study as a whole the basis for a strategy focused on addressing loneliness are proposed, with suggestions that adopt an ecosystemic, integrated, coordinated and people-centred approach.