An investigation into the patterns of loneliness and loss in the oldest old – Newcastle 85+ Study

Katie Brittain, Andrew Kingston, Karen Davies, Joanna Collerton, Louise Robinson, Thomas Kirkwood, John Bond, Carol Jagger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


Old age is often characterised as being associated with neglect, isolation and loneliness, not least since established risks factors for loneliness include widowhood, living alone, depression and being female. Cross-sectional data have challenged the notion that loneliness is especially an old-age phenomenon but longitudinal data on loneliness is scarce. Moreover, an under-represented group in prior studies are the oldest old, those aged 85 years and more. This paper addresses these knowledge gaps using data from the Newcastle 85+ Study, a large population-based cohort aged 85 years at first interview with follow-up interviews at 18 months and three years. At baseline over half (55%) reported being always or often alone, and 41 per cent reported feeling more lonely than ten years previously, although only 2 per cent reported always feeling lonely. Women spent more time alone than men and reported more loneliness both currently and compared to the past. Length of widowhood was a key factor, with those recently widowed having twice the risk of feeling lonely and those widowed for five or more years having a lower risk of reporting increased loneliness. Overall, the findings show that loneliness is a minority experience in the oldest old but is strongly driven by length of widowhood, challenging the notion that loneliness in later life is a static experience.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-62
JournalAgeing & Society
Issue number01
Early online date30 Oct 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017


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