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COVID-19: Remotely delivered interventions to reduce social isolation and loneliness

During the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of older people across the UK (aged 70+) were instructed to be particularly strict about the social distancing measures and told to self-isolate.

These social distancing measures placed older people at greater risk than normal of social isolation and loneliness.

Our research explores various remote interventions to see what is effective at combatting loneliness in older adults.

This video gives a brief overview of the research.

What we did

We set out to review the evidence on interventions that seek to ameliorate loneliness or social isolation, or both, through remote interventions.

Against a backdrop of mandatory social distancing, our aims were to understand how remote interventions may be effectively delivered.

How we did it

We followed a ‘review of reviews’ methodology, with a view to synthesising evidence from related (but differing) remote interventions for social isolation and loneliness.

We sought to synthesise evidence presenting descriptive characteristics using narrative synthesis, Intervention Component Analysis and Qualitative Component Analysis, and through creating evidence maps.

To help to identify studies as systematic reviews, we drew on the Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects (DARE) criteria.

What we found

  • Supported video communication interventions were regarded positively by older adults, with some evidence of lower feelings of loneliness and higher social support scores.
  • Telephone contact showed reduced feelings of loneliness and social isolation.
  • Online discussion groups and forums showed mixed results.
  • Social networking sites have the potential to reduce loneliness in older adults, but the evidence here is weak.
  • Multi-tool interventions included in this review demonstrated significant decreases in loneliness, but not always increases in social support.

Remote interventions with each of the following characteristics are most effective:

  • Supporting development of close relationships: To express feelings freely and without self-consciousness (such as opportunities for unstructured discussions with peers).
  • Supporting interactions through ensuring participants share experiences/characteristics: for example, being a carer or stroke survivor, or having shared characteristics (for example, women only, people of similar age/SES).
  • Support interactions through pastoral guidance: providing some form of pastoral care, such as light-touch oversight of a discussion forum by professionals, or opportunities for participants to contact professionals for advice.

In-depth findings can be found in the full report (PDF).

Policy relevance

Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of older adults are being advised to socially distance themselves from others.

With older people more likely to have long-term illness or disability, live alone and be widowed, they are at risk of being lonely.

This can lead to adverse effects on their quality of life, wellbeing and mental health, and can be associated with physical ill health and mortality.

So, it is clear that there is a policy relevance to mitigate or prevent loneliness in older adults. However, which interventions can help achieve this goal is less clear.

This review focuses on interventions that seek to reduce loneliness and/or social isolation through remote interventions and focuses on how remote interventions may be effectively delivered.

Associated publications

Our full report is entitled ‘Rapid review of reviews: what remotely delivered interventions can reduce social isolation and loneliness among older adults?’.



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