The health impacts of loneliness are significant, and must be better understood in order for loneliness in older age to be tackled effectively. It is only by addressing the negative consequences of loneliness to our physical and mental health that we can be sure we’re really addressing the wider problem.
Severe loneliness has a similar effect on our mortality as cigarette smoking. Lonely individuals are also more prone to depression, cognitive decline and dementia. In Britain, it is estimated that about 31% of people aged over 65 are lonely sometimes and another 8-10% are lonely all of the time. As our population ages, this is only set to increase.
We’re pleased that No. 10 now recognises this negative impact of loneliness on health. We will be inviting the aide quoted, David Halpern, to work with us on our local health and wellbeing work, which provides a starting point for a wider movement to tackle loneliness.
Whilst we know that retirement is a significant trigger for loneliness it is over-simplifying the issue to focus on the suggestion that working longer is the solution. This ignores the benefits of a wealth of other activities, such as spending time with friends or volunteering, that can all help prevent loneliness once we have retired.
It is important to remember that we can all do something to combat loneliness in older age; individuals, local and national voluntary groups, businesses and government bodies can all play a different but equally valuable role.
However, we believe the first step is to reduce the devastating effect loneliness on our physical and mental health and we call on local health bodies and commissioners, like No. 10, to recognise this and take action for their communities.