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Report on World Social Work Day Seminar on Loneliness and Older People
Brunel University celebrated World Social Work Day on 15 March 2011 by hosting a seminar on the topic of loneliness presented by Professor Christina Victor. As MA Social Work students at Brunel University who are currently involved in a new student unit in partnership with London Borough of Hillingdon we were fortunate to be invited to participate in the event. This was particularly relevant to our current placement where we work with older people and have seen loneliness at first hand.

The lecture was insightful because it highlighted the causes and effects of loneliness and Professor Victor challenged the myth that all older people are lonely. Being an older person and living alone is not necessarily a cause of loneliness and is prevalent amongst younger people also, which stresses the importance of quality social and emotional interaction.

People who reported feeling lonely “all/most of the time” were predominantly in the 70+ year old age range, however interestingly in the category of feeling lonely “some of the time” the highest rate of loneliness was reported in the under 25’s category, followed closely by the over 75’s. It is widely assumed that older people are at most risk of feeling lonely although these findings suggest that loneliness is widespread in other age groups.

While it is important not to assume all older people are lonely it is essential to be aware of the negative effects related to loneliness. For example, loneliness is associated with negative health outcomes. There is an increased risk of cancer, coronary heart disease and increased levels of anxiety which can lead to negative risk factors such as excessive drinking, suicidal thoughts and self harm. However, the causal process in unclear. Using a person centred approach allows us to explore the association with loneliness and risk behaviour which can negatively impact health.

This seminar highlighted the complexity of loneliness which has allowed us to incorporate our understanding of loneliness into practice. It was clear from this lecture as Social Work students we should not make the assumption that all older people are lonely. There are a variety of contributing factors that are interconnected and subjective to the individual. The use of a person centred approach incorporates this subjectivity and allows the practitioner to help create a package of care which meets both the service user’s physical and social needs. Social needs embrace the service user’s emotional well being which is inextricably linked to loneliness.

Our links with local charities such as Age UK have also been extremely beneficial in our practice as we have been actively involved in older people’s social groups and have seen how these can help to minimise the effects of loneliness. Our experiences with service users have shown how much services such as befriending, luncheon clubs and outreach are valued.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank Professor Victor and Brunel Institute for Ageing Studies for hosting this event. This lecture has given us an increased awareness of loneliness which we can apply in our future practice.

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