A systematic review on the impact of social networks on loneliness among older people in rural areas

As part of the HAIRE project, the University of Plymouth is undertaking a systematic review on the impact of social networks on loneliness among older people living in rural areas. In this month’s blog, Basharat Hussain and Mahrukh Mirza, from the University of Plymouth, explain the process and findings to date.

Healthcare related decisions are critical and therefore need to be based on high quality scientific evidence. The scientific evidence on a topic is generated through individual studies. However, evidence from a single study may not offer confidence to policy makers and practitioners to change an existing practice or adopt a new intervention. This requires an acceptable method to pool all the relevant evidence on a topic and to make the information accessible to busy policy makers and practitioners.

Systematic review is a well-recognised method of identifying, evaluating and summarising evidence from all relevant individual studies, thereby making the available evidence readily accessible to decisionmakers. In a systematic review, all studies published on a topic (in our case, healthy ageing) are searched through online bibliographic databases (e.g., MEDLINE). The online searching of databases is undertaken using a comprehensive, reproducible, and predefined search strategy. This search can result in few hundreds to thousands of studies published on the topic globally or a geographical region of interest (e.g., Europe). The searched studies are screened using strict and narrow inclusion and exclusion criteria. These criteria can consist of research participants (e.g., age over 60 years), setting (e.g., rural areas) and phenomenon of interest (e.g., impact of social network on loneliness). All studies meeting the inclusion criteria are thoroughly read, quality assessed, and their findings synthesised. The final product is a summary of findings on a topic of interest and identification of any gaps for further research in that area.

Image Source: https://libguides.library.curtin.edu.au/systematic-reviews

The review started in January 2022 and will be completed by April 2022. A comprehensive search strategy has been developed to search five main healthcare related databases on the topic. The search has identified over 38,000 published studies on the topic globally, starting from 1954 to January 2022. Screening of the published studies is underway. An interesting finding struck during the screening process is an acute lack of research on social networks and loneliness among older people in rural areas of Europe.

The findings from this review will be helpful not only for the HAIRE project, but also for policy makers, practitioners and researchers who have an interest in the topic. If you are interested in knowing more about this systematic review or would like to have copy once the findings are published, please get in touch with Dr Basharat Hussain, Research Fellow in Health Innovation, University of Plymouth (Basharat.hussain@plymouth.ac.uk), OR Dr Mahrukh Mirza, Lecturer in Clinical Education, University of Plymouth (Mahrukh.mirza@plymouth.ac.uk).