Friendships, loneliness and psychological wellbeing in older adults: a limit to the benefit of the number of friends

Alexandra Thompson*, Michael Smith, Andrew McNeill, Thomas Pollet

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Loneliness is linked to many negative health outcomes and places strain on the economy and the National Health Service in the United Kingdom. To combat these issues, the determinants of loneliness need to be fully understood. Although friendships have been shown to be particularly important in relation to loneliness in older adults, this association has thus far not been explored more closely. Our exploratory study examines the relationship between number of friends and loneliness, depression, anxiety, and stress in older adults. Data were obtained from 335 older adults via completion of an online survey. Measures included loneliness (UCLA Version 3), depression, anxiety and stress (DASS-21). Participants also reported their number of close friends. Regression analyses revealed an inverse curvilinear relationship between number of friends and each of the measures tested. Breakpoint analyses demonstrated a threshold for the effect of number of friends on each of the measures (loneliness = 4, depression = 2, anxiety = 3, stress = 2). The results suggest that there is a limit to the benefit of increasing the number of friends in older adults for each of these measures. The elucidation of these optimal thresholds can inform the practice of those involved in loneliness interventions for older adults. These interventions can become more targeted; focusing on either establishing four close friendships, increasing the emotional closeness of existing friendships or concentrating resources on other determinants of loneliness in this population.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1090-1115
Number of pages26
JournalAgeing & Society
Issue number5
Early online date29 Jul 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2024


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