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New study to tackle loneliness among people with learning disabilities

Published: 31 August 2022

A new NIHR-funded study will aim to overcome loneliness among people with learning disabilities.

Loneliness often leads to other underlying medical issues such as heart diseases, obesity, anxiety, and depression. But people with learning disabilities often find it difficult talking about their experiences.

Researchers at the University of Surrey aim to understand the barriers they face and to provide social care staff with tools to help them.

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.”

Researchers will run a series of creative workshops. They include storytelling, creating collages, walking while talking and the use of objects that represent feelings of loneliness.

Researchers will also spend time in four different learning disability services, observing and conducting interviews with staff to learn if more can be done to ensure those with learning disabilities feel more socially connected.

Dr 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.”

Findings from the study will help create guidance and training that enables staff to help the people they support to develop more social connections.

The study is funded by an NIHR Advanced Fellowship and will run for five years.

Read more on the study’s project page.

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