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Loneliness is a looming public health concern

Sep 27, 2018

According to a recent report by Age UK, over two million people aged over 50 will be lonely by 2025-26, a 49% increase on the 1.36m who were socially isolated in 2015-16.

The report also highlighted that loneliness is driven by circumstance, and that an older person is five times more likely to be lonely if they have been widowed and three times more likely if they are in poor health. The findings come as the government finalises its strategy to combat loneliness, which charities, councils and health experts say has increased recently due to longer lifespans, cuts to social care services and families becoming geographically more spread out.

If not addressed loneliness can have a devastating effect on people’s physical and mental health. Depression, anxiety and a lack of confidence are just some of the health problems that plague lonely and socially isolated older people.

Age UK’s Charity Director, Caroline Abrahams, said: “Our population is ageing quite fast and so we’re heading towards having two million lonely over-50s in less than a decade, with serious knock on consequences for their physical and mental health, and therefore for the NHS, unless we take action now. This is why the Government’s forthcoming Loneliness Strategy is so timely and important: it needs to contain a raft of measures to prevent and address loneliness among people of all ages, plus enough resources so they can be implemented. She added that “The Government cannot ‘solve loneliness’ on its own, but it can ensure the foundations are in place so all of us can play our part, as neighbours, relatives, friends, employers and volunteers.”

How do you spot the signs of loneliness?

  • Verbal cues – The person may tell you that that they are feeling lonely and ask for help. However, in many cases older people do not like to admit this. It is therefore important to listen out for other verbal cues that could suggest feelings of loneliness and social isolation. For example they may say that they do not have any friends or that they feel like they do not get out very much.
  • Sleep – Feeling lonely increases your chances of not getting a good night’s sleep. Look out for signs of exhaustion, like chronic fatigue, irritability and lack of appetite.
  • A change in behaviour – Loneliness is often linked with depression. They may seem sad and be withdrawn when you try to engage in conversation with them. If you are worried, you should encourage them to visit a GP or reach out to a mental health charity.
  • Bereavement  The thought of dealing with life after losing a partner can be daunting. According to Age UK, 63% of adults aged 52 who have been widowed admit to feeling lonely. There is no wrong or right way to cope with grief, but encouraging them to help about it can help.

If you have a friend or neighbour who you think may be lonely, we would encourage you to reach out to them. Perhaps invite them round for a cup of tea and a chat. Or ask them if they want to go out for a walk with you. Small acts such as these can go a long way to brightening someone’s day.  Supported by a network of volunteers, Contact the Elderly organises monthly Sunday afternoon tea parties for small groups of older people aged 75 and over who are dealing with loneliness and social isolation. There are groups in Huddersfield and Halifax and you can sign up here to start arranging your own afternoon tea party!

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