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Isolation and loneliness: pilot of a coffee morning hosted in a general practice

02 October 2020
9 min read
Volume 31 · Issue 10

Abstract

Social isolation and loneliness are a significant and growing problem in the older population in the UK. Louise Johnson and Sheila Hardy performed a pilot study to see whether it was feasible to host a coffee morning for isolated patients in general practice

Aim:

The aim of this pilot study was to find out whether it was feasible to host a regular coffee morning in a GP practice to reduce isolation and loneliness.

Background:

Social isolation and loneliness are a significant and growing problem in the older population in the UK and have been identified as a risk factor for all cause morbidity and mortality.

Method:

A weekly coffee morning was held over 8 weeks. Feedback was gained via a participant questionnaire.

Results:

In total, 25 people attended the sessions. Just under half felt they had learnt about the healthcare roles in the practice and 80% learnt how to be healthier. Four-fifths were made aware of services and support in the community and 21 felt an increased sense of community. It was difficult for staff to commit due to work responsibilities.

Conclusion:

It is feasible to hold a coffee morning for isolated patients within a GP practice. Feedback from patients was positive. A programme of coffee mornings over a fixed period that encourage engagement in community services would increase the number of patients benefitting.

Globally, isolation and loneliness are a significant and growing problem in the older population (Fakoya et al, 2020) and have become an increasing challenge in the UK. A report by Age UK in 2016 showed that the number of chronically lonely older people had reached over 1.2 million, with over half a million not speaking or seeing anyone for up to 5 days (Age UK, 2016). Their report 2 years later estimated that the number of people over 50 years old experiencing loneliness would reach two million by 2026 (Age UK, 2018).

There is a difference between isolation and loneliness. Isolation has been defined as separation from social or familial contact, community involvement, or access to services (Public Health England, 2015; Age UK, 2015a); while loneliness can be understood as an individual's personal, subjective sense of lacking these things (Age UK, 2015a). It is therefore possible to be isolated without being lonely, and to be lonely without being isolated. Social isolation has been identified as a risk factor for all cause morbidity and mortality (Laugesen et al, 2018). Loneliness can lead to various physical disorders like diabetes, autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, cardiovascular diseases like coronary heart disease, hypertension, obesity, physiological aging, cancer, hearing problems and poor health (Mushtaq et al, 2014). It also has an impact on mental health and overall wellbeing, causing people to feel empty, alone and unwanted (Mushtaq et al 2014).

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