How well do general practitioners know their elderly patients' social relations and feelings of loneliness?

Tina Drud Due, Håkon Sandholdt, Volkert Dirk Siersma, Frans Boch Waldorff

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BACKGROUND: Social relationships are important to people and affect their quality of life, morbidity and mortality. The aim of this study was to examine the correlation between elderly patients' descriptions of their social relations and feelings of loneliness, and their general practitioners' assessments of these.

METHODS: Cross-sectional study in 12 general practices in the Capital Region of Denmark. During a three-week period each practice asked their patients aged 65 and older to fill out a questionnaire regarding health, social relations and loneliness; the general practitioner (GP) filled out a matching questionnaire regarding their perception of the patient's social relations and loneliness. Data were collected from February to September 2014.

RESULTS: Of the 767 eligible patients 476 were included in the study. For 447 patients both GP and patient had answered at least one question on loneliness or social participation. The correlations between patients' and GPs' answers regarding social participation and loneliness were low (0.04-0.26). While GPs were less able to identify lonely patients and patients with low social participation, they were better at identifying not-lonely patients or those with high social participation. It was especially difficult for GPs to identify lonely patients when they were not living alone or if the GP believed the patient had high social participation.

CONCLUSION: GPs have difficulty identifying patients who are lonely or have low social participation and this ability is further diminished when the patients do not live alone or if the GP believes them to have high social participation. Given the consequences of loneliness and limited social participation on patients' health and well-being, and GPs' limited ability to identify these patients, GPs' obligations and resources in this area need to be clarified.

Original languageEnglish
Article number34
JournalB M C Family Practice
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 26. Feb 2018


  • General practice
  • Loneliness
  • Primary care
  • Social relations


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