An exploration of the consequences of, and coping with loneliness in an ageing intellectual disability population

HRB Open Res. 2022 Jul 5:5:2. doi: 10.12688/hrbopenres.13452.2. eCollection 2022.


Background: Loneliness has been associated with increased hypervigilance and sad passivity. The physiological and psychological reactions of people with an intellectual disability to loneliness have never been investigated. Therefore, this research aims to explore the outcomes of loneliness for an ageing intellectual disability population. Methods: In Ireland, data from a nationally representative data set of people aged over 40 years with an intellectual disability (N=317) was applied to a social environment model that describes the effects of loneliness in five pre-disease pathways which are: health behaviours, exposure to stressful life events, coping, health and recuperation. The data was tested through chi-squared, ANCOVA and binary logistic regression. Results: Being lonely predicted raised systolic blood pressure (A.O.R=2.051, p=0.039), sleeping difficulties (AOR=2.526, p=0.002) and confiding in staff (AOR=0.464 p=0.008). Additionally, participants who did 10 to 20 minutes of exercise daily (moderate activity) had significantly higher loneliness scores than those who did not (F=4.171, p<0.05). Conclusions: The analysis supports the concept of hypervigilance in older people with an intellectual disability but finds that the health behaviours of the lonely do not differ from the not lonely. Future research needs to investigate the longitudinal relationships between loneliness and health.

Keywords: Intellectual Disability; Learning Disability; Loneliness; Perceived Social Isolation.

Grants and funding

Health Research Board [IDS-TILDA-2015-1]