Programme no. 325-OP
Professional Development
Social relations and loneliness among patients aged 65 years and older consulting their general practitioner
Tina Due*1, Frans Boch Waldorff 2, Volkert Siersma3
1The Research Unit for General Practice and Section of General Practice, Department of Public Health, University of Copenhagen,Copenhagen,Denmark, 2The Research Unit for General Practice and Section of General Practice, Department of Public Health, University of Copenhagen and Research Unit of General Practice, Department of Public Health, University of Southern Denmark,Copenhagen, Odense,Denmark, 3The Research Unit for General Practice and Section of General Practice, Department of Public Health, University of Copenhagen,Copenhagen,Denmark
* = Presenting author
Objectives: To describe and analyse social relations and loneliness among patients aged 65 years and older consulting their general practitioner.
Background: Social relations are important for people and may affect their quality of life, morbidity and even mortality. This is especially important among elderly people. The GP is in a unique position to address both social relations and perception of loneliness among their elderly patients; however no GP population based studies have surveyed elderly primary care patients’ statements regarding social relations and loneliness.

Results: Of the 767 eligible patients 474 were included in the study. The main reason for exclusion was patients refusing to participate. 461 patients filled out a least one item relating social participation and loneliness. Based on our social participation definition 36% could be characterized as having high social participation, 46% having medium and 18% having low social participation. Further, 18% of the patients “often” or “sometimes” felt lonely. There were a significant correlation between social participation and perception of loneliness (p<0.0001), with higher social participation correlated to less perception of loneliness. However, 25% of patients feeling lonely had a high social participation. Among patients that answered that they “often” or “sometimes” felt lonely, only 15% had discussed it with their general practitioner.
Material/Methods: A survey among 12 general practices with 20 GPs in the Capital Region of Denmark. During a 3 week period each practice consecutively asked their patients aged 65 and above to fill out a questionnaire regarding health, social relations and loneliness. Data was collected from February to September 2014.

Social participation was measured by three questions: how often they received visitors at home, how often they visited others and how often they participated in social activities. Loneliness was measured by the question “Does it ever happen that you feel lonely”.

Conclusion: Patients aged 65 years and older consulting their general practitioner in general have many social relations, however a large proportion report that they are lonely from time to time. Further, patients rarely discuss their perception of loneliness with their general practitioner. General practitioners should be aware that information regarding social participation may not transfer to patient perception of loneliness.
Points for discussion: What is the connection or difference between social participation and perception of loneliness?

In what way is it relevant for the GP to address the patient’s social participation and perception of loneliness?