‘There’s something about admitting that you are lonely’ – prevalence, impact and solutions to loneliness in terminal illness: An explanatory sequential multi-methods study

Jeffrey R Hanna, Tracey McConnell, Craig Harrison, Katarzyna A Patynowska, Anne M Finucane, Briony Hudson, Sharon Paradine, Angela McCullagh, Joanne Reid

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Abstract

Background: Loneliness is a prevalent societal issue and can impact on a person’s physical and mental health. It is unclear how loneliness impacts on end of life experiences or how such feelings can be alleviated. Aim: To explore the perceived prevalence, impact and possible solutions to loneliness among people who are terminally ill and their carers in Northern Ireland through the lens of health and social care professionals. Design: An explanatory multi-method study. Setting/participants: An online survey (n = 68, response rate 30%) followed by three online focus groups with palliative and end of life care health and social care professionals (n = 14). Data were analysed using descriptive statistics and thematic analysis. Results: Loneliness was perceived by professionals as highly prevalent for people with a terminal illness (92.6%) and their carers (86.8%). Loneliness was considered a taboo subject and impacts on symptoms including pain and breathlessness and overall wellbeing at end of life. Social support was viewed as central towards alleviating feelings of loneliness and promoting connectedness at end of life. Four themes were identified: (1) the stigma of loneliness, (2) COVID-19: The loneliness pandemic (3) impact of loneliness across physical and mental health domains and (4) the power of social networks. Conclusion: There is a need for greater investment for social support initiatives to tackle experiences of loneliness at end of life. These services must be co-produced with people impacted by terminal illness to ensure they meet the needs of this population.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
JournalPalliative Medicine
DOIs
Publication statusPublished online - 8 Sep 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank the professionals and practitioners that took the time to complete the survey and participate in a focus group. The study was funded by Marie Curie.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2022.

Keywords

  • Loneliness
  • carers
  • end of life
  • healthcare professionals
  • palliative care
  • social care professionals
  • terminal illness

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