Professor Vanessa Burholt



After graduating from the Open University in 1994, I worked as a researcher at Bangor University while I undertook my PhD. After completing my PhD in 1998, I became Deputy Director of the Centre for Social Policy Research and Development at Bangor University and in 2004 took over as Director. I was awarded a personal Chair at Bangor in 2007, and shortly after moved to Swansea University, as Director of the Centre for Innovative Ageing. In 2016 I was also appointed Director of the pan-Wales Centre for Ageing and Dementia Research. In 2019 I moved from the UK to New Zealand to take up an exciting new postition as Professor in Gerontology in the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences jointly in the School of Nursing and School of Population Health.

Research | Current

I have secured in excess of £51.9 million / NZ$103.7 million in research income for studies on which I have been Principal Investigator or Co-Investigator. 

Current ongoing initiatives in the UK include:

Co-applicant and UK representative on the Management Board Reducing Old-Age Social Exclusion: Collaborations in Research and Policy (ROSEnet). Cost Action CA15122. (€141,000) EU April 2016 – April 2019.

Lead applicant: Institute of Creative Ageing Industries. European Research Development Fund (£4.1 million) 2019-2021

Co-applicant: The Active Building Centre. EPSRC (£36m) Sept 2018 – March 2022.

Lead applicant: Centre for Ageing and Dementia Research. NISCHR (£6,) Apr 2015-Mar 2025.

Past research programmes include:

Co-applicant (Principal Investigator in South Wales): Maintaining function and well-being in later life: A longitudinal cohort study. ESRC, £3,221,080 (Oct 2009 – July 2017).

Principal Investigator: Older People’s External Residential Assessment Tool (OPERAT). NISCHR (£169,887) (Oct 2013- Dec 2015).

Co-applicant: Dementia and imagination: connecting communities and developing well-being through socially engaged visual arts practice. AHRC £1,199,996 (July 2013 – Feb 2017)

Principal Investigator: Inter, intra-generational and transnational caring in minority communities in Wales. NISCHR £91,639 (April 2011-Sept 2013)

Co-applicant: Inter, intra-generational and transnational caring in minority communities. Leverhulme £213,482 (Oct 2010-Sept 2013)

Principal Investigator: The closure of care homes for older people in Wales: Prevalence, process and impact. NISCHR £164,164 (May 2010 – Nov 2011)

Co-applicant: Grey and Pleasant Land? An Interdisciplinary Exploration of the Connectivity of Older People in Rural Civic Society. ESRC, £1,126,925.21 (Sep 2008 – Mar 2012)

Principal Investigator: Intergenerational Relationships and Support Networks of Older South Asians: A Comparison of Elders Living in the UK, India and Bangladesh. ESRC, £72,696 (Mar 2009 – Mar 2010)

Principal Investigator: Extracare: meeting the needs of fit or frail older people? Wales Office of R&D for Health and Social Care, £231,560 (July 2008 – June 2010)

Principal Investigator (UK): Families and Migration: Older People from South Asia. Department for International Development ESA315 £180,672 (2000-2003)

Principal Investigator (UK) Ageing Well: European Study of Adult Well-Being (ESAW). European Commission Framework V 1.6M Euro (Jan 2002-Dec 2003).


Teaching | Current


Postgraduate supervision

I have supervised 9 Masters students, 15 PhD students and been appointed external examiner for 14 PhDs. I have also previously been Director of two post-graduate courses in Ageing Studies and Gerontology. I am currently seeking to recruit PhD candidates especially interest in ageing research on the topics of loneliness and social relationships e.g. environment impact on social isolation and loneliness, or changes in support networks over time.

I am currently supervising:

Kate Howson: Evaluation of the Impact of Intergenerational Activities on Relationship-Centred Care and Care Outcomes in Care Homes (Swansea University).

Kailash Khanal: Optimising post-disaster aid delivery to addr5ess the needs of senior citizens in Nepal (Swansea University).

Catherine Launder: Transitions in care: Information needs concerning the discharge from hospital of an older person (Swansea University).


Personal awards include Fellow of the Academy of Social Science (UK) and Senior Research Leader for Health and Care Research Wales (2017 onwards). In 2015 and 2017 I won outstanding contribution to research award, and in 2019 the Head of College award in the College of Human and Health Science, Swansea University. In 2018  I received the Irish Gerontological Society Medal for ALONE Willie Bermingham Lecture.


Research and scholarship in ageing and to establish an Interdisiplinary Centre for Ageing Research

Areas of expertise

I have 24 years research experience in social gerontology. A majority of my personal funded research takes into account the intrinsic capacity of an older person: that is, the mental and physical capacities that an individual can draw upon, in particular, cognitive capacity/impairment and functional capacity/impairment. My research contextualises intrinsic capacity within the environment. In this respect, environments include the home, community and society, encompassing the built environment, people and their relationships, attitudes and values, health and social policies, the systems that support them and the services that they implement. The WHO has noted that being able to live within environments that support and maintain intrinsic capacity and functional ability, is key to Healthy Ageing.

The human ecology framework guides my inquiry into the inter-relatedness of systems to transform understanding of the relationship between cognitive and/or functional impairment and wellbeing outcomes. From the systems perspective, Ageing Well or Healthy Ageing are conceptualised as emergent products of a system, in which individual, community, environment and macro-structures (e.g. governmental policies, values and normative beliefs) are inextricably connected. This represents a holistic theoretical approach to understanding the phenomena, that can be used to disrupt existing wisdom and generate original knowledge, understanding and vision.

I am a world-leading expert in the social sciences on social relationships, networks and loneliness, with publications in the top-ranked social gerontology journals. I was the first scientist to assess the impact of the physical external environment and culture on loneliness. I am the leading authority on the Practitioner’s Assessment of Network Type (PANT), a network measurement developed by Professor Clare Wenger and used in Life and Living in Advanced Age, a Cohort Study in New Zealand (LiLACS NZ) at the University of Auckland and NZ Health Work and Retirement Study (NZHWR) at Massey UniversityI have studied diversity intensively and have developed a method of measuring social networks in collectivist cultures which has the potential to be used for studying the social connections of older Maori and Pacific Islanders.

I have international-standing with regard to my stream of work concerning physical environments of. I have co-produced (with older people) a tool for assessing the suitability of external residential environments in rural and urban area which has been piloted in New Zealand with colleagues at Massey University (Palmerston North) and Grey Power. I have studied rural living through large-scale and longitudinal studies (e.g. Bangor Longitudinal Study of Ageing; Cognitive Function and Ageing Study (Wales); Grey and Pleasant Land? An Interdisciplinary Exploration of the Connectivity of Older People in Rural Civic Society) and subsequently published a road map for future European rural research, alongside other books and articles on the impact of rurality on older people’s place attachment, belonging, identity and availability of support. Working with stakeholders (managers, practitioners and older people) a tranche of my research has focussed on optimising supported living environments (extracare supported housing, residential and nursing homes) for older people. I have developed new models of care for people living with dementia that are being implemented in the UK through innovative pathways (e.g. in the Active Building Centre).

The trajectory to Healthy Ageing or Ageing Well is not equal for all older people: some groups are particularly vulnerable to exclusion from positive outcomes. Social exclusion is complex and dynamic; it involves interchanges between multi-level risk factors, processes and outcomes and leads to the non-realisation of social, economic, political or cultural rights or participation within a society. In later life, increased vulnerability to exclusion may be due to accumulated disadvantage, or constraints on the methods by which exclusion may be ameliorated. My research on social exclusion has sought to identify the risks and outcomes of social exclusion (in access to social relations, culture and environment) in order to establish ways in which to reduce inequities in Ageing Well between groups of older people.

Committees/Professional groups/Services

School of Nursing Executive Committee

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

As of 29 October 2020 there will be no automatic updating of 'selected publications and creative works' from Research Outputs. Please continue to keep your Research Outputs profile up to date.
  • Burholt, V., Davies, J., Boyd, M., Mullins, J. M., Zoe Shoemark, E., & Centre for Ageing and Dementia Research, Expert Review Group on Continence and Dementia (2020). A Research Agenda for Promoting Continence for People Living with Dementia in the Community: Recommendations Based on a Critical Review and Expert-By-Experience Opinion. Journal of clinical nursing10.1111/jocn.15537
  • Burholt, V., Windle, G., Gott, M., & Morgan, D. J. (2020). Technology-Mediated Communication in Familial Relationships: Moderated-Mediation Models of Isolation and Loneliness. The Gerontologist, 60 (7), 1202-1212. 10.1093/geront/gnaa040
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Merryn Gott
  • Prohaska, T., Burholt, V., Burns, A., Golden, J., Hawkley, L., Lawlor, B., ... Perissinotto, C. (2020). Consensus statement: loneliness in older adults, the 21st century social determinant of health?. BMJ open, 10 (8)10.1136/bmjopen-2019-034967
  • Morgan, D. J., & Burholt, V. (2020). Loneliness as a Biographical Disruption – Theoretical Implications for Understanding Changes in Loneliness. Journals of Gerontology, Series B10.1093/geronb/gbaa097
  • Burholt, V., Winter, B., Aartsen, M., Constantinou, C., Dahlberg, L., Feliciano, V., ... Working Group on Exclusion from Social Relations, part of the COST-financed Research Network ‘Reducing Old-Age Exclusion: Collaborations in Research and Policy’ (ROSENet) (2020). A critical review and development of a conceptual model of exclusion from social relations for older people. European journal of ageing, 17 (1), 3-19. 10.1007/s10433-019-00506-0
  • Victor, C. R., Dobbs, C., Gilhooly, K., & Burholt, V. (2020). Loneliness in mid-life and older adults from ethnic minority communities in England and Wales: measure validation and prevalence estimates. European Journal of Ageing10.1007/s10433-020-00564-9
  • Fried, L., Prohaska, T., Burholt, V., Burns, A., Golden, J., Hawkley, L., ... O'Sullivan R (2020). A unified approach to loneliness. Lancet (London, England), 395 (10218)10.1016/s0140-6736(19)32533-4
  • Evans, B. A., Porter, A., Snooks, H., & Burholt, V. (2019). A co-produced method to involve service users in research: the SUCCESS model. BMC medical research methodology, 19 (1)10.1186/s12874-019-0671-6

Contact details

Primary office location

M&HS BUILDING 505 - Bldg 505
Level 2, Room 235B
New Zealand