Mapping Isolation and Loneliness Amongst Older People in Belfast Report Commissioned by the Belfast Strategic Partnership

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Belfast, like many other cities, has an ageing population with almost one fifth (19%) of its population aged 60 or above. As part of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities, Belfast is committed to addressing the needs of its older citizens. Belfast’s Healthy Ageing Strategic Partnership (HASP) has acknowledged that older people are particularly at risk of becoming socially isolated and lonely, which has substantial implications for their health, well-being and ability to access a wide range of services. However, it can be very difficult to identify and engage with this group of people. This report attempts to identify individual-level and area-level characteristics which increase vulnerability to social isolation and loneliness; and spatially locate areas across Belfast where the risk of older people becoming lonely and isolated maybe particularly concentrated.

In order to do this a series of isolation indices have been developed for Belfast, using data derived from the CACI Acorn Customer Segmentation Dataset. These indices have been mapped in order to: Identify neighbourhoods where social isolation may be particularly problematic; Highlight that while social isolation is a city-wide problem, ‘pockets of isolation’ exist throughout the city; and Provide a detailed picture of additional risk factors which may contribute to social isolation and loneliness.

Previous work has suggested that an individual’s vulnerability to social isolation and loneliness may be associated with the following socio-demographic characteristics: Being aged 75 or older; Living in single person households; Being poorly educated; Having a low household annual income; Not having access to a car; and Living in areas of higher social deprivation. When these factors were compiled into an isolation index and mapped for Belfast, it appears that older adults living within some of the most socially deprived neighbourhoods in inner city Belfast are at the greatest risk of becoming socially isolated. However, social isolation and loneliness are not just found in deprived, inner city neighbourhoods. As shown in the map overleaf there are vulnerable households located across the city, including those areas that have higher average household incomes and car-ownership levels.

This report also explores the additional risk factors which heighten an individual’s vulnerability by developing detailed ‘profiles’ of older adults with higher isolation index scores. This identifies: poor health status; limited participation in social and leisure activities; and disengagement with digital technology, as particularly contributing to social isolation and loneliness. The report presents a secondary isolation index which accounts for some of these additional risk factors. When spatially mapped, it further confirms that social isolation is a complex city-wide phenomenon, with risk-factors that do not simply follow obvious demographic and socio-economic profiles.

This analysis of the distribution and contributing factors to social isolation and loneliness can be used to: Develop targeted neighbourhood initiatives to enhance levels of social inclusion and participation within communities; and devise city-wide initiatives which will facilitate all older adults at risk of social isolation and loneliness to become more integrated within society.
Original languageEnglish
Commissioning bodyBelfast Strategic Partnerhsip
Number of pages45
Publication statusPublished - 06 Dec 2016


  • ageing
  • isolation
  • loneliness


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