Fighting loneliness in old age

Numerous initiatives are endeavouring to draw attention to the phenomenon of loneliness in old age. UAS Burgenland graduate Leonie Cammerlander also dedicated her Master's thesis to the topic.

Loneliness is extremely harmful to our health, but it is not always easy to recognise. As part of the international EU project Digi-Ageing, a student at Burgenland University of Applied Sciences conducted research into digital health tools to help detect and counteract loneliness in old age.

Pinkafeld, 6 February 2024 - In addition to mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety, lonely people are significantly more likely to develop dementia, have a poorer immune system and are prone to cardiovascular problems. Loneliness, especially in old age, has become a serious health problem. The EU-funded Digi-Ageing project is focussing on digital health tools. In this case, these are standardised tests and guidelines for healthcare and nursing staff that are intended to help assess the risk of loneliness in older patients. Leonie Cammerlander, a graduate of the Master's degree programme in Health Management and Integrated Care at Burgenland University of Applied Sciences, evaluated the tools for healthcare and nursing staff used in the pilot phase of the project as part of her Master's thesis. She presented her findings at an international conference.

The loneliness quick check

Carers and medical staff are often the only contact persons for elderly people. In addition to providing medical care, these professionals should prospectively  also pay more attention to loneliness. Standardised digital tests, such as the loneliness quick check or the more detailed UCLA test, are available for this purpose and can be used to assess the patient's "loneliness risk". If the risk is found to be high, an intervention plan is put into action. Well-trained nursing staff have numerous ways of supporting lonely patients. Leonie Cammerlander focussed on the feasibility of these measures and the user-friendliness of the tools on offer.

Lithuania as a pioneer in digitalisation, Austria lags behind

Her questionnaire, which she used to survey nursing staff from the five project partner countries Italy, Spain, Cyprus, Lithuania and Austria, was translated into six languages and completed 142 times in total. "Unfortunately, Austria didn't do so well. Mainly because we are not as advanced in terms of digitalisation in the care sector," reports the graduate. Cyprus, for example, is far ahead of us here. "Among other things, it is already more established there to deal with loneliness. The assessment in Lithuania was particularly good because the experts from the health and care sector there were much younger on average." In Italy, on the other hand, digitalisation had made very little progress. The carers were much older and had difficulties with user-friendliness.

Staff training is essential

Cammerlander concludes that the education and training of healthcare staff in the use of digital health tools is an important building block for meeting future challenges.

The aim would be to carry out these screenings as standard and to raise public awareness of how harmful loneliness is for those affected.

Leonie Cammerlander, graduate of the FH Burgenland

For the young graduate, working in such a large transnational research project was a unique experience.

Loneliness doesn't have to be

Numerous initiatives are endeavouring to draw attention to the phenomenon of loneliness in old age. Organisations such as "Vollpension" in Vienna invite people to drink coffee or cook together. But the problem does not have to be "outsourced". We can all take the following measures to counteract loneliness when dealing with those affected:

  • Maintain and keep in regular contact: e.g. visit for a coffee, make regular (video) calls...
  • Encourage the older person to share fond memories and use the internet to do so:
    • What was my favourite meal? - Possibly track down a recipe and cook it together
    • What was my favourite song?
    • What was my favourite place, birthplace, favourite holiday destination? (Google Maps)

Leonie Cammerlander works in digital hospital management and is in charge of the information system at the Rudolfinerhaus in Vienna. Her Master's thesis from the Health Management and Integrated Care degree programme was supervised by Peter Mayer, head of the degree programme. The EU project Digi-Ageing will be continued. Further information is available here.

More about the degree programme

Master's degree course in Health Management and Integrated Care - 4 semesters; Academic degree: Master of Arts in Business - MA; Organisational form: part-time (usually every fortnight on Friday and Saturday from approx. 8.30 am to approx. 6.30 pm), one week of attendance per semester; Study places: 24; Place of study: Pinkafeld; Language of instruction: German; Tuition fees: none. Graduates take on management positions in health and social care facilities (hospitals, rehabilitation clinics, convalescent homes, outpatient services, local authorities, group practices, health organisations, long-term care facilities, care facilities, advice centres, social insurance institutions) as managers in the health and/or social care sector, in hospital management, at the interface between inpatient and outpatient care, in central coordination in the field of social work, in teaching, research and development.

It is already possible to apply to start the course in autumn 2024.

Further information:
Mag.a Christiane Staab
Marketing & Communication
Fachhochschule Burgenland GmbH
Tel: +43 (0)5 7705 3537

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