Student reveals extent of loneliness in the elderly

Wed 30 September, 2015
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Over 80% of adults with mental health problems in nursing homes suffer from loneliness, according to research by a University of Bedfordshire student.

Vasiliki Tzouvara, a PhD student in the University’s Institute for Health Research (IHR), has devoted her work to uncovering the prevalence and experiences of loneliness and self-stigma, and their potential inter-relationships.

Vasiliki has had a number of articles based on her research published in a collection of healthcare journals, including Nurse Researcher, Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, and the British Journal of Community Nursing, which published her piece A narrative review of the theoretical foundations of loneliness.

Amongst the key findings of her study was that more than two thirds (68.8%) of older adults with mental health problems in nursing homes classified themselves as being ‘sometimes lonely’, while 12.5% reported severe levels of loneliness.

The results showed that levels of loneliness rose with age, whilst men are more likely than women to suffer from intense experiences of emotional loneliness due to the loss of a spouse. On the flip side, heightened religiousness was associated with lower levels of loneliness.

In addition, almost half of the study’s participants (43.8%) self-stigmatised their condition. Marital status was recognised as the most important factor explaining levels of self-stigma.

Vasiliki’s work is important in the context of raising awareness about the needs of the aged in the UK, as well as providing empirical evidence about the prevalence of mental illness among older adults in UK-based nursing homes.

In particular, a lack of social connections, according to the Campaign to End Loneliness, is as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes per day, and has more impact on mortality than well-known risk factors such as obesity.

“My study provides significant insights into the prevalence and experiences of loneliness and self-stigma among this population, and highlights the need for further investigation on the topic in order for us to be in a better future position to eliminate the adverse effects,” explained Vasiliki.

“The study is particularly important considering the rapid growth of an aging population in the UK, the increasing number of older adults suffering from mental illness, and the adverse effects of loneliness and self-stigma upon older adults’ lives.

“Finally, the study advances our knowledge about the theoretical dimensions of loneliness.”

Having worked in the Psychiatric Hospital of Athens and a private institution providing healthcare to children in Greece, Vasiliki joined Bedfordshire in 2011, first of all completing an MSc in Public Health. She was then awarded a full-time PhD studentship and took on the role of research assistant for the IHR.

Vasiliki thanked the University for giving her the flexibility to direct her studies and enhance her career prospects:

“I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to the University of Bedfordshire, and particularly the Institute for Health Research for giving me the opportunity, not only to develop myself academically, but also personally.

“Nothing would have been achieved without the experienced, knowledgeable, passionate, supportive and dedicated team I was honoured to work with for the last three years, including Dr Chris Papadopoulos and Professor Gurch Randhawa

“Overall, my learning experience at the University of Bedfordshire has been exceptional.”


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