The contribution of primary care practitioners to interventions reducing loneliness and social isolation in older people—An integrative review
Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences
Background: Social connection is a fundamental human need. Its absence can lead to loneliness and social isolation, adversely impacting health and well-being. Given their regular contact and trusted relationships with older people, practitioners delivering community-based primary care are well-positioned to address this issue. However, their contribution to addressing loneliness and social isolation is unclear. Aim: This integrative review explores the contribution of the primary care workforce to interventions aimed at reducing loneliness and social isolation in community-dwelling older people. Method: Using an integrative review method, Scopus, Web of Science, CINAHL and PubMed were searched for original research published between 2000 and 2022. Fourteen papers reporting 13 primary studies were appraised for methodological quality and included in the review. Data were extracted into a summary table and analysed using thematic analysis. Results: Included studies came from over six countries. Internationally, primary care services have diverse structures, funding and workforces influencing their response to loneliness and social isolation. All but one intervention was multi-component, with ten studies including a group-based activity and three providing primarily individual-level activities. Only six studies reported reductions in loneliness following the intervention. Three themes were identified: characteristics of interventions; implementation context, barriers and facilitators; and differing contributions of primary care practitioners in addressing loneliness and social isolation of older people. Conclusion: There is increasing demand and scope for primary care practitioners to assist lonely and socially isolated older people. It is important to understand how to equip and incentivise these practitioners to routinely identify, assess and respond to lonely and socially isolated older people despite varying implementation contexts. There is a need for further research that explores how the primary care team can be better utilised to deliver effective interventions that reduce the health impacts of loneliness and social isolation.
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