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Scottish survey reveals the scale of social isolation and loneliness

More than 70% of young adults with learning disabilities reported feeling lonely ‘a lot of the time’, according to a campaigning organisation

More than 70% of young adults with learning disabilities reported feeling lonely ‘a lot of the time’, according to a campaigning organisation


Picture: Alamy

Social isolation is a potent determinant of poor health, as such its effect on people with learning disabilities needs to be better understood and this will help inform the practice of learning disability nurses in reducing health inequalities.

A survey by Learning Disability Alliance Scotland explored experiences of isolation and loneliness among more than 200 people.

Young people and adults between 16-34 years showed particularly high levels of isolation, and this was often linked with school/college/apprenticeships coming to an end. A total of 35% of people noted that they had no one other than paid carers to call on if they needed help, and 16% said they stayed at home seven days a week.

Risk factors

More than three quarters (70%) of people reported feeling lonely ‘a lot of the time’, in comparison with about 11% of the general population. Evenings were a time when people were more likely to feel lonely. Risk factors also included:

  • Where people live.
  • Mental health. 
  • Mobility problems.

It was suggested that access to flexible transport systems, accessible information about activities and improved finances were needed to combat loneliness and isolation. People particularly need additional support at times of major life transitions and at times of loss or bereavement.

Recommendations to improve people’s situation included:

  • A national strategy to tackle loneliness.
  • Greater awareness of the effect of loneliness on well-being.
  • More flexible patterns of care and support.
  • Greater access to bereavement support.
  • More learning disability nurses.

Learning Disability Alliance Scotland (2018) A National Survey of the Views of People with Learning Disabilities in Scotland by the Learning Disability Alliance Scotland. 


Dave Atkinson is an independent consultant nurse

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