[BLOG] Loneliness in Older People

Published: 22/05/2019

In this 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.

A couple of days ago AgeUK 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 Bluebird Care feel extremely passionately about.

In this 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.

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. (AgeUK, 2016).
  • With one million elderly people across Britain living on their own, half of those were expected to spend Christmas Day 2015 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% (AgeUK, 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 AgeUK 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.

Loneliness can be a temporary, recurrent, or persistent state and as previously discussed it does affect a large number of elderly people.

 

So why do people get lonely?

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.

Here at Bluebird Care we run a structured Customer Engagement Programme which helps our Customers to remain involved in their community and forge friendships with other likeminded people.

Sara Flint, Director at Bluebird Care Exeter and East Devon said:

“We see a real difference in our Customers who attend our outings, be that lunch, coffee or companionship groups – this being sometimes, other than our care and support visits, the only contact they may have – so are vital in combatting feelings of isolation and loneliness as well as providing respite for unpaid carers.

 

Tackling loneliness

The Local Government Association will this week 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 AgeUK 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.

 



AgeUK’s No one should have no one Campaign

AgeUK 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 AgeUK to prevent and tackle it.
 
AgeUK 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.

 

 



Please follow these links to find other help available if you or someone you know is experiencing feelings of loneliness:
 
Age UK’s befriending services
Campaign to End Loneliness in older age
Contact the Elderly
SilverLine
Friends of the Elderly
Women’s Institute
Rotary