The National Institute for Health and Care Research are funding a new study that will look to understand the causes of, and subsequently overcome, loneliness among people with learning disabilities.
Those who experience loneliness are often more prone to developing underlying medical conditions such as anxiety, depression, obesity, and even heart disease. The problem is those suffering from loneliness, who also have learning difficulties, often find it difficult to open up and talk about their experiences.
So, in a bid to resolve this, researchers from the University of Surrey are set to launch a five-year study investigating the barriers people with learning difficulties face when they are experiencing a chronic social disconnect.
The study’s findings will then inform staff on how best to navigate the problem, giving them the tools to affect real change upon patients and improve their quality of life.
Lead Investigator, Dr Carys Banks, a Research Fellow at the University of Surrey, said: “People with learning difficulties are often the forgotten cohort when it comes to thinking about fighting loneliness. They often find it difficult to communicate their feelings and struggle to get the help they need.
“Everyone experiences loneliness from time to time but being perpetually lonely can have serious implications for our long-term health, particularly for those with learning disabilities who are seven times more likely to be lonely than non-disabled people.”
As part of their investigations, researchers will conduct interviews with staff members at a range of learning disability services, as well as running a series of workshops that will include learnings about objects that have connotations to loneliness, storytelling, walking and talking, and creating collages.
Dr Carys Banks added: “Although people with learning disabilities may not be socially isolated, even with people around them they can often still feel lonely. By working with staff in learning disability services, we can provide them with the tools to identify and give additional support to those who need it.”
It is hoped that the research will ultimately set out a roadmap for how staff can help those with learning difficulties foster more social connections and improve their health outcomes.