The research makes clear that loneliness harms our health. Loneliness and social isolation are harmful to our health: research shows that lacking social connections is as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Over half (51 per cent) of all people ages 75 and over live alone. Loneliness in older age has significant links to chronic conditions, including hypertension, depression and dementia – increasing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 50%. It’s is also widely linked to depression. Each of these conditions cost the NHS millions each year.
National research has shown that around 10 per cent of the over 65s say they are lonely or very lonely, with another 20% saying they are occasionally lonely. This means that there could be up to 2.4 million older people across the countries that are lonely at any one time.
We recently spoke to a number of people about what it felt like to experience loneliness as they grew older. One woman told us:
“My only family live in other parts of the country, so I don’t see them as much as I would like. If I’m feeling low, it hurts to see other families meeting up and being jolly. You can feel very alone and as if no-one gives a damn about you. You can become lonely, depressed, and isolated.”
“Sometimes I’ll just sit and cry, as life just feels empty. I’ve no one to talk to, rarely have visitors and few phone calls. I’m just completely alone.”
Of course there are a range of support services available for older people who find themselves in need, but these are under considerable and constant threat from funding cuts. If you also consider that our population is living longer, we will have increasing demand met by fewer resources.
We all need to work together to combat loneliness, to improve quality of life as we grow old, and reduce the risks of developing major illnesses.
We believe one way this can be done is for local services to be put in place to prevent loneliness in older age. The options are almost endless; they could range from interest-based groups to community transport schemes, but above all should be what the local population wants, and what the local population needs.
Today marks just 40 days until health and wellbeing boards – new forums for senior health and social care leaders – across England become official bodies, formally taking up their responsibilities for the health and wellbeing of their local population.
If loneliness in older age is to be properly addressed in our communities, these boards must take loneliness and its effects to both emotional and physical health seriously by making them a priority when it comes to support and funding. We can all make sure that they are doing this, most importantly making a difference won’t take long. It will take just a few minutes to write to your local councillors to ask them to make your local health and wellbeing board aware of the public health threat of loneliness: simply click here to send them an email.
Or there are other ways to take action, for example:
- Write a letter to your local newspaper to make sure people are aware of on the health risks of loneliness (here is a template from our website)
- Inform local charities and community groups about our Loneliness Harms Health campaign
- Respond to a consultation – all health and wellbeing boards have to consult on their strategy. Therefore asking you to feedback on their draft of priorities. If loneliness hasn’t been mentioned that speak up and tell them why it’s so important that they do.
For further information about how to take action, take a look about our Loneliness Harms Health campaign: http://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/campaigns/loneliness-harms-health/