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University of Bath

Exploring emotional loneliness in older people living in retirement communities

The project seeks to better understand older people’s experiences of loneliness and attachment in retirement living – in Australian and UK samples.

A couple crosses the road hand in hand.
The project will explore older people's experiences of loneliness.

The purpose of this project is to explore older people’s experiences of emotional loneliness using attachment theory as a critical lens. Governments and service providers have devoted comparatively little attention to the psychosocial aspects of older people’s lives and inner life in long-lived individuals is almost wholly ignored. Theoretical frameworks that offer promising ways of understanding issues such as emotional loneliness could be highly profitable. This is particularly important for those seeking to develop retirement communities that support older people’s experiences of loneliness from a platform of objective empirical evidence.

Accordingly, this project has the following key aims:

  • To advance understanding about how older people experience emotional loneliness and attachment and how these experiences change as they move into retirement community living.

  • To generate detailed qualitative data from 80 long-lived individuals in retirement communities across two countries (UK and Australia), involving (a) in-depth, systematic qualitative interviews about experiences of attachment and close relationships, (b) interviews to provide systematic data about experiences of emotional loneliness, and (c) interviews to explore how close relationships and feelings of loneliness have changed across the transition to retirement community living.

  • To translate data into key messages (in collaboration with our industrial partner, Guild Living) designed to facilitate improvements in care education, provision, and policy in relation to retirement community living.

Intended impact

It is hoped that this detailed and large-scale qualitative analysis of older people’s inner lives and experience will be an unprecedented opportunity to look deeply at emotional life in older people making the transition to retirement living. The benefit of such detailed insight will be the facilitation of the development and imagination of new and productive ways of supporting older people’s relational and emotional lives in retirement living.

This trans-national project will also provide an innovative model to explore cultural differences in older people’s experiences of emotional loneliness and attachment. Research findings and methods of this project can be translated to inspire further research projects to illustrate older people’s inner life across cultures, shaping care provision and policy-making beyond the UK and Australia.

Research team

Principal investigator:

  • Dr Sam Carr (Department for Education) Sam is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Bath. He is the Principal Investigator for this research project exploring older people’s life experiences in relation to retirement living and has interviewed a significant number of older people about their experiences of later life. His specialist area is exploring human relationships across the lifespan. Sam has a ten-year old son, Alex, and a cat called Percy.

Co-investigators:

  • Dr Chao Fang (Post-doctoral researcher) Chao is a postdoctoral researcher exploring older people's experiences when transitioning to retirement communities in later life. Chao attained his PhD from the Department of Social and Policy Sciences at the University of Bath. His previous research paid close attention to older people in the UK, Japan and mainland China. During this work, he gained valuable experience talking to older people and developed a deep understanding of their life experiences. His research interest lies in understanding older people's experiences of life in contemporary society. He is particularly keen to explore how older people respond to changes in their life circumstances, as well as how socio-cultural environments shape their needs and sense of meaning in their later life. Originally from China, Chao studied and worked in Japan for five years before moving to the UK. Therefore, he has a deep understanding of the feelings associated with adapting to new environments and the importance of communicating with others.

  • Joy Cranham (interviewer) Joy was an Assistant Headteacher for several years before undertaking a Doctoral Research Programme. Her interest lies in identifying effective ways to educate families and children about healthy relationships. Formerly from Australia, Joy lived for five years in the Kuwait before returning to England to raise her family.

  • Diana Teggi (interviewer) Diana relocated from Italy to the UK to complete her PhD in Social Policy at the University of Bath. Her specialism is ageing and care of older people. As part of her PhD studies, she visits old people’s homes and spends long hours there with the residents and staff. She got into this field as she watched her grandparents ageing, with all the new experiences and challenges that entailed.

Qualitative data gathering

1 OCT 2019  to  31 JAN 2020

Generate detailed qualitative data from 80 long-lived individuals in retirement communities across two countries (the UK and Australia).

Analysis

1 NOV 2019  to  1 NOV 2020

Undertake detailed quantitative and qualitative analysis of older people’s experiences of emotional loneliness and attachment in relation to the transition to retirement living.

Key messages

1 OCT 2020  to  1 OCT 2021

Translate data into key messages (in collaboration with our industrial partner, Guild Living) designed to facilitate improvements in care education, provision, and policy in relation to retirement community living, designing and imagining support mechanisms to bring into being.