Only the lonely: a randomized controlled trial of a volunteer visiting programme for older people experiencing loneliness
LAWLOR Brian, et al
Loneliness is a significant problem among older people living in Ireland. The negative effects of loneliness on physical and emotional health are well documented in the literature. This study was established in the context of a dearth of effective interventions to alleviate loneliness. A peer visiting intervention for community dwelling older adults experiencing loneliness was designed and subjected to the rigour of a randomised controlled trial. It consisted of ten home visits to the intervention participants from a volunteer, themselves an older person. The volunteer built up a rapport with the participant and encouraged them to identify a social connection they wished to establish. Several participants made new social connections outside their home while most continued to receive visits from their volunteer following the end of the study period. The main study finding was very positive. The primary outcome, loneliness, decreased in the intervention group at one month and three month follow up. Potential benefits for the volunteers were also identified, in particular a decrease in loneliness. Both participants and volunteers reported that they enjoyed the intervention. The intervention is low cost and could be incorporated into existing support services or non-government organisations caring for community dwelling older adults. It is a potentially scalable model to deal with the major societal challenge of loneliness.