Loneliness is a complex and usually unpleasant emotional response to isolation. Older people are particularly vulnerable to social isolation or loneliness owing to loss of friends, family, mobility or income. Loneliness typically includes anxious feelings about a connection or communication with other beings, both in the present and extending into the future.

3.6 million older people in the UK live alone, of whom over 2 million are aged 75+.

1.9 million older people often feel ignored or invisible.


The interventions to tackle social isolation or loneliness include: befriending, mentoring, community navigators, social group schemes. Woolton Community Life has adopted the Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) model where the asset is the volunteers from the community who give their time freely. This has worked extremely well for us.

There is good evidence that one to one interventions such as befriending and community navigators reduce loneliness and improve health and wellbeing. Users reported high level of satisfaction with the services. They also reported that their self-esteem had improved and they felt physically and mentally better. They had increased physical activities, were sleeping better and reduced their medication.

What makes a person lonely is the fact that they need more social interaction or a certain type of social interaction that is not currently available.

Impact on Health

Social isolation and loneliness impact up on individuals’ quality of life and wellbeing, adversely affecting health and increasing their use of health and social services.

When you look at data, what’s really interesting is loneliness has been found to be associated with a reduction of life span. The reduction in life span [for loneliness] is similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and it’s greater than the impact on life span of obesity. So if you think about how much we put into curbing tobacco use and obesity, compared to how much effort and resources we put into addressing loneliness, there’s no comparison. Look even deeper and you’ll find loneliness is associated with a greater risk of heart disease, depression, anxiety and dementia.


Being lonely has a lasting effect on blood pressure, with lonely individuals having higher blood pressure than their less lonely peers. Loneliness is also associated with depression (either as a cause or consequence) and higher rates of mortality. A recent meta-analysis found that people with stronger social relationships had 50 per cent increased likelihood of survival than those with weaker social relationships.

  • They discovered that they do not get out for days
  • 8% said they worry about their mental health
  • 75% of doctors said they see up to 5 patients a day whose main reason for visiting their doctor is loneliness.
  • 10% doctors said they see 6-10 patients each day who say they are lonely.
  • 4% doctors said they see more than 10 patients per day who say they are lonely.

Presentation Documents

In Kyoto, Japan at the WONCA conference from 14th to 15th of May 2019,  Dr Kuruvilla presented some of the work on social prescribing using WCL as a model. The documents relating to the presentation are here:

WONCA Abstract

Social prescribing

WONCA Presentation


Dr George Kuruvilla with Professor John McKnight (USA), the founder of Asset Based Community Development which was the basis of the model we have adopted.