This report is one of two in conjunction with the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London. This report emphasises the importance of social connections in later life and highlights the problem of low levels of life satisfaction among older people.

A research team, from the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London (UCL), has been investigating the mental wellbeing of older people. This research, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, has addressed a number of different issues including social networks, social isolation and the impact caregiving has on emotional wellbeing.

This report, the first in a two part series summarising the UCL research and exploring the policy implications of the work, focusses on the UCL findings on social relationships and subjective wellbeing, which find that:

  • The loneliest and most socially isolated individuals have consistently lower levels of subjective wellbeing than older people who are more socially connected.
  • Both the size of an individual’s social network and their frequency of contact with that network are positively associated with wellbeing over 6 years of follow up.
  • While older people begin to see a rise in their wellbeing in later life, those who are socially isolated do not.

The report addresses the wider context of these findings, highlighting how our rapidly ageing population could potentially lead to greater numbers of lonely and socially isolated older people if nothing is done to address this issue. It then explores the policy implications of the UCL research, highlighting that while social isolation and loneliness among older people have been rising up the policy agenda in recent years, the true extent of the loneliness problem is not currently fully known as the Government only measures loneliness among those in care or caring for others.

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