This week, new research on loneliness and isolation in older age in England from the English Longitudinal Study on Ageing (ELSA) have been published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Based on data gathered in 2009-2010, we now know:

  • 25 per cent of people aged over 52 report feeling lonely sometimes and only 9 per cent said they felt lonely often.
  • However, 46 per cent of those aged 80 and over compared to the average of 34 per cent for all aged 52 and over report feeling lonely some of the time or often
  • Those who report feeling lonely sometimes or often are much more likely to report a lower level of satisfaction with their lives overall.
  • People who had been widowed, separated or divorced or those who were in poor health were more likely to report feeling lonely
  • A higher percentage of women than men reported feeling lonely some of the time or often

These latest statistics from the Office for National Statistics confirm what we see daily: poor health, losing a partner and living arrangements are contributing to loneliness in older age. Whilst living alone, widowhood or illness do not automatically result in loneliness, they can make us significantly more vulnerable – particularly as we age.

Regular readers of our blog will already know that 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. It can also contribute to depression and cognitive decline, which in turn (as we learnt from this week’s Alzheimer’s Society report) can lead to further isolation and loneliness. This latest research from the ONS adds to this evidence base: they found “a strong association between reported feelings of loneliness and reported limitations in performing daily activities.”

Local councils and NHS should be taking these changing patterns into account when planning services that keep us connected in older age – from social care to transport. As social and health care is increasingly shifting towards to enabling older people to remain in their homes for as long as possible, more needs to be done to map those at risk of loneliness or isolation to make sure that additional support or existing services are reaching those who need it most.

For example, Essex County Council, who’s health and wellbeing board have committed to addressing loneliness and isolation, have started this process by developing a bespoke Isolation Index for their county. You can ask your own council to take action on loneliness, by joining in with our Loneliness Harms Health campaign.