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Primary care-based interventions addressing social isolation and loneliness in older people: a scoping review

P. Galvez-Hernandez, L. González-de Paz, C. Muntaner
BMJ Open

Objectives: Primary care is well positioned to identify and address loneliness and social isolation in older adults, given its gatekeeper function in many healthcare systems. We aimed to identify and characterise loneliness and social isolation interventions and detect factors influencing implementation in primary care. Design: Scoping review using the five-step Arksey and O'Malley Framework. Data sources: MEDLINE, CINAHL, EMBASE, COCHRANE databases and grey literature were searched from inception to June 2021. Eligibility criteria: Empirical studies in English and Spanish focusing on interventions addressing social isolation and loneliness in older adults involving primary care services or professionals. Data extraction and synthesis: We extracted data on loneliness and social isolation identification strategies and the professionals involved, networks and characteristics of the interventions and barriers to and facilitators of implementation. We conducted a thematic content analysis to integrate the information extracted. Results: 32 documents were included in the review. Only seven articles (22%) reported primary care professionals screening of older adults' loneliness or social isolation, mainly through questionnaires. Several interventions showed networks between primary care, health and non-healthcare sectors, with a dominance of referral pathways (n=17). Two-thirds of reports did not provide clear theoretical frameworks, and one-third described lengths under 6 months. Workload, lack of interest and ageing-related barriers affected implementation outcomes. In contrast, well-defined pathways, collaborative designs, long-lasting and accessible interventions acted as facilitators. Conclusions: There is an apparent lack of consistency in strategies to identify lonely and socially isolated older adults. This might lead to conflicts between intervention content and participant needs. We also identified a predominance of schemes linking primary care and non-healthcare sectors. However, although professionals and participants reported the need for long-lasting interventions to create meaningful social networks, durable interventions were scarce. Sustainability should be a core outcome when implementing loneliness and social isolation interventions in primary care.

Galvez-Hernandez P, González-de Paz L, Muntaner C. Primary care-based interventions addressing social isolation and loneliness in older people: a scoping review. BMJ Open. 2022;12(2):e057729. Published 2022 Feb 4. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2021-057729 PMID: 35121608

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Publication year
Resource type
Peer Reviewed Research
Social Determinant of Health
Social Support/Social Isolation
Study design