Loneliness in our elderly community

In our latest blog, we’re looking at the prevalence and impact of loneliness and what campaigns and help there is out there for anyone experiencing feelings of isolation and loneliness.

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Recently Age UK released a news article in which they advised that more than one million people in the UK aged 65 and over, are lonely. That’s a scary statistic on its own but even more so when you realise that that accounts for around 10-13% of older people. Combatting loneliness and isolation in the elderly is something that we at Independent Living feel extremely passionately about.

We want to start with some stark facts:

· For instance, did you know that loneliness can be as harmful to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day? (Holt-Lunstad, 2010).

· Feelings of isolation, seclusion and loneliness are all barriers to a happy and healthy life and have been shown to accelerate cognitive decline. (James et al, 2011)

· Loneliness also puts an added pressure on council and health services, with more than three quarters of GPs saying they see between 1 and 5 lonely people a day. (Age UK, 2016).

· With one million elderly people across Britain living on their own, half of those were expected to spend Christmas Day 2018 alone.

· A study by Holwerda et al (2012) shockingly concluded that lonely people have a 64% increased chance of developing dementia.

Simply put, loneliness is a serious condition that can severely affect a person’s mental and physical health, and increase the risk of premature death by 30% (Age UK, 2016). We often talk about Loneliness and Isolation and use them interchangeably, and although they are related, they are different concepts. Loneliness is best understood as a person’s emotional state whereas Isolation refers to, for example, a lack of contact with family or friends or a loss or lack of community involvement. Research by Age UK has shown that older people in care homes report feelings of loneliness but people who live on their own or remotely may not. Therefore, it is possible to be lonely but not isolated and vice versa.

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Research by Boomsma et al (2005) suggests that loneliness is approximately 50% inherited and 50% environmental. This helps to explain why some people are happy to be alone, and others are not. However, the fact that loneliness is not 100% inherited means that it can be affected and influenced by interventions aimed at reducing loneliness. Factors associated with loneliness in the elderly

Many studies have found a variety of factors correlate with older people saying they feel lonely, for example a person’s:

· Age

· Ethnicity and language

· Gender

· Living arrangements and Housing

· Geography

· Health

Other key moments that occur in older age, such as retirement, becoming a voluntary carer and bereavement are also shown to trigger feelings of prolonged loneliness (Bolton, 2012).

Boldy et al (2014) also reported older people saying that they find it more difficult to create friendships in later life.

Tackling loneliness

The Local Government Association will be launching at the Annual Public Health Conference a publication called “Combating Loneliness”, which offers guidance for councils and has been produced in partnership with Age UK and the Campaign to End Loneliness. Councillor Izzi Seccombe, LGA spokesperson for public health, said:

Loneliness is a significant and growing concern for many older people and is something that is now being identified as a major public health issue…. The impact of loneliness can be devastating and costly – with consequences comparable to smoking and obesity. This can be prevented with early intervention, which a number of councils are already successfully delivering in partnership with volunteer and community organisations. As our population profile changes and we have a larger proportion of over 65s and over 85s, loneliness is becoming an increasingly important public health concern

Age UK’s Charity Director, Caroline Abrahams, said:

This new guidance for councils is a welcome opportunity to shed light on good practice and support the development of promising approaches to tackling loneliness. There is clearly some outstanding work being done to tackle the loneliness epidemic across the country but much more needs to be done. We also want the government to recognise the problem as a major health issue and take urgent action to help those who are most at risk.

Age UK’s No one should have no one Campaign

Age UK want local and national government to understand that older people’s loneliness really matters; that, as seen in this blog, it’s a serious public health problem and they want them commit to take action with Age UK to prevent and tackle it. Age UK need all of our help Loneliness definitely can't be fixed by Government alone, everyone has a role to play:

· as individuals – by being friendly to the older people around us

· as families – by making the effort to stay in touch with older relatives, beyond our immediate family and those living nearby

· as communities – by actively supporting our local Age UK and other voluntary groups that help older people to have fun, make new friends and enjoy the company of others.

Independent Living is extremely proud of the work we do and the services we provide to our clients, including these issues around loneliness and isolation. We pride ourselves on combatting loneliness and have many years’ experience supporting those in need.

To find out more about how we could support you or a family member, contact our friendly team on 01332 799292 or alternatively visit our website at

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