Introduction

This scoping study examined the available literature on the impact of social isolation and loneliness on physical health, mental health and wellbeing in old age.

Key findings included:

  • loneliness and social isolation are increasingly recognised as risk factors for poor health and reduced wellbeing. Almost all the studies reviewed found a detrimental effect of isolation or loneliness on health. Health risks associated with isolation and loneliness have been compared to the well-established detrimental effects of smoking and obesity;
  • depression and cardiovascular health are the most often researched outcomes, followed by wellbeing;
  • definition and measurement in this area both remain complex and contested. Causal links and mechanisms are difficult to demonstrate and further investigation is needed;
  • there is a paucity of research focusing on the health and social care use of isolated older people and interventions;
  • future research should aim to “connect the dots” between the literature on the risk factors for loneliness and social isolation and the research on their impact on health and wellbeing.