Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

The experience of social and emotional loneliness among older people in Ireland


This paper reports a study of the risk factors for social and emotional loneliness among older people in Ireland. Using the ‘Social and Emotional Scale for Adults’, the social and emotional dimensions of loneliness were measured. Emotional loneliness was conceptualised as having elements of both family loneliness and romantic loneliness. The data were collected through a national telephone survey of loneliness in older people conducted in 2004 that completed interviews with 683 people aged 65 or more years. It was found that levels of social and family loneliness were low, but that romantic loneliness was relatively high. Predictors for social loneliness were identified as greater age, poorer health, living in a rural area, and lack of contact with friends. Living in a rural setting, gender (male), having a lower income, being widowed, no access to transport, infrequent contact with children and relatives and caring for a spouse or relative at home were significant predictors of family loneliness. Romantic loneliness was predicted by marital status, in particular being widowed. Never having married or being divorced or separated were also significant predictors for romantic loneliness. The findings indicate that loneliness for older people is variable, multi-dimensional and experienced differently according to life events, with, for example, the death of a partner being followed by the experience of emotional loneliness, or the loss of friends or declining health leading to social loneliness.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Jonathan Drennan, School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Systems, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland. E-mail:
Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

R. Allen and H. Oshagan 1995. The UCLA Loneliness Scale: invariance of social structural characteristics. Personality Individual Differences, 19, 2, 185–95.

K. Cramer and J. Barry 1999. Conceptualizations and measures of loneliness: a comparison of subscales. Personality and Individual Differences, 27, 3, 491502.

E. DiTommaso and B. Spinner 1993. The development and initial validation of a measure of social and emotional loneliness (SELSA). Personality and Individual Differences, 14, 1, 127–34.

E. DiTommaso and B. Spinner 1997. Social and emotional loneliness: a re-examination of Weiss's typology of loneliness. Personality and Individual Differences, 22, 3, 417–27.

E. DiTommaso , C. Brannen and L. A. Best 2004. Measurement and validity characteristics of the short version of the social and emotional loneliness scale for adults. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 64, 1, 99119.

J. M. Ernst and J. T. Cacioppo 1999. Lonely hearts: psychological perspectives on loneliness. Applied and Preventive Psychology, 8, 1, 122.

A. Forbes 1996. Education and debate, caring for older people: loneliness. British Medical Journal, 313, 352–4.

K. Holmén , K. Ericsson , L. Andersson and B. Winblad 1992. Loneliness among elderly people living in Stockholm: a population study. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 17, 1, 4351.

K. Holmén , K. Ericsson and B. Winblad 2000. Social and emotional loneliness among non-demented and demented elderly people. Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics 31, 3, 177–92.

K. Holmén and H. Furukawa 2002. Loneliness, health and social network among elderly people: a follow-up study. Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, 35, 3, 261–74.

J. E. Johnson , M. Waldo and R. G. Johnson 1993. Research considerations: stress and perceived health status in the rural elderly. Journal of Gerontological Nursing, 19, 10, 24–9.

E. O'Shea 2006. An economic and social evaluation of the Senior Helpline in Ireland. Ageing & Society, 26, 2, 267–84.

M. Pinquart and S. Sorensen 2001. Influences on loneliness in older adults: a meta-analysis. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 23, 4, 245–66.

A. Rokach , T. Orzeck , M. C. Moya and F. Expósito 2002. Causes of loneliness in North America and Spain. European Psychologist, 7, 1, 70–9.

M. C. Ryan and J. Patterson 1987. Loneliness in the elderly. Journal of Gerontological Nursing, 13, 5, 611.

J. Scalise , E. Ginter and L. Gerstein 1984. A multidimensional loneliness measure: the Loneliness Rating Scale (LRS). Journal of Personality Assessment, 48, 5, 525–30.

N. Schmidt and V. Sermat 1983. Measuring loneliness in different relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44, 5, 1038–44.

M. A. R. Tijhuis , J. de Jong-Gierveld , E. J. M. Feskens and D. Kromhout 1999. Changes in and factors related to loneliness in older men: the Zutphen Elderly Study. Age and Ageing, 28, 5, 491–5.

J. Wang , M. Snyder and M. Kaas 2001. Stress, loneliness, and depression in Taiwanese rural community-dwelling elders. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 38, 3, 339–47.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Ageing & Society
  • ISSN: 0144-686X
  • EISSN: 1469-1779
  • URL: /core/journals/ageing-and-society
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 20
Total number of PDF views: 133 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 506 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 28th June 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.