Loneliness In Later Life

Published: 22/05/2019

With an estimated 1 million people over 65 chronically lonely we look at what we can do to tackle this epidemic, both as individulas and services that support the elderly. 

Loneliness in the UK has been described as an epidemic. In fact, it’s become such a widespread social issue that the government recently announced the appointment of a Minister for Loneliness and BBC Radio have launched their very own Loneliness Experiement, a radio programme and survey thats hopes to understand this epidemic and ways that we can tackle it. 

It’s estimated that in the UK there are currently over 1 million people over age 65 who are chronically lonely, and over half of people aged 75 and over live alone, without regular social contact. Worryingly, the idea of loneliness in old age is so pervasive that it’s something that many people have come to expect. Research shows that there’s a direct correlation between people who anticipate loneliness in old age and their actual experience, with people who expected to be lonely in later life being three times more likely to experience these feelings.

So, how do we solve the problem of loneliness? To better understand and engage with someone who may be experiencing social isolation, it's crucial to understand what loneliness is, why it occurs and how best to facilitate a conversation around it.

So, what is loneliness?

As multi-faceted human beings we all experience loneliness in our own way but in general terms it’s described as a negative experience where a person feels that they don’t belong and are disconnected from others. This occurs when the social interaction we want doesn’t match up with the social interaction we actually have. As the quantity and quality of our social relationships is pivotal to our sense of self and impacts our physical and mental health, finding a solution to the problem of loneliness is vital for wellbeing. 

How can we all help overcome loneliness in the elderly?

Although most of us will experience a degree of loneliness at some point, for many of us it will be transitory. Unfortunately for a great number of older people, isolation defines and devastates their lives, so what can we all do to help people deal with feeling lonely?

There’s no ‘best’ way of having a conversation about loneliness but using empathy and openness is a great way to start helping that person understand their own circumstances and explore avenues to help themselves. It’s useful to take a person-centred approach, considering external factors and the person’s subjective experience. 
Some key questions to ask when helping someone overcome their loneliness might be:

  • Does the person have supportive relationships with family and/or friends?  
  • Are there social groups to which the person already belongs or could belong to?  
  • Are there practical factors that prevent social connection (lack of transport, disability) and if so, are there solutions to this problem?  
  • Is loneliness the result of a life-changing event such as bereavement, ill health or giving up driving?
  • Would engaging with technology provide them with a positive way to connect with others or might this intimidate them and compound their loneliness?
  • Ask the person, ‘If you could do anything, what would you do?’ and work from there.

Being supportive and listening to the person’s feelings are key to helping them cope with loneliness but remember to be patient too   - interacting with others may be a slower process for people who need to confront painful feelings or are daunted by change.

What are we doing to tackle loneliness at Bluebird Care Wandsworth?

At Bluebird Care we don’t accept that loneliness in old age is inevitable – that’s why we created our national Every Visit Counts Campaign. Here in Wandsworth, we work in close Partnership with a number of key organisations in the Borough, including Wandsworth Carers Centre and the Alzheimer’s Society. We’re proud to work with some incredible services in the local area that are helping to keep older people involved in their community, amongst which are: Wandsworth Community Transport who host an annual programme of day trips; the Alzheimer’s Society Dementia Café’s and support groups and the Home Cook Project, a great initiative that puts people in touch with their elderly or isolated neighbours who would appreciate a home cooked meal and a chat!

In addition, we also offer our own social events calendar to our Customers and their families. Just last year we hosted our first ever Afternoon Tea and Bingo attended by the Mayor of Wandsworth and our Customers also enjoyed a hugely successful Trip to Brighton!

Customers who are less able to leave the house are certainly not forgotten at Bluebird Care Wandsworth! Our Care Plans are all bespoke which means our Care Assistants can help individuals to get involved in a range of social activities that suit them, either at home or in the local area - whether that’s playing games at home, enjoying nature in the local park or visiting the café down the street!  

Our dedicated Community Liaison Manager, Hiliwona, is actively involved with our local community organisations and knows what’s offer in terms of groups and activities. Hiliwona also makes sure that our Customer-facing Team have all the information they need to support to our Customers to access services that may interest or benefit them.

We don’t want any of our wonderful clients to experience loneliness - our team are always happy to discuss how we can support people to maintain existing relationships and access social activities. Simply get in touch using our online contact form or call Hiliwona on 020 8877 4950.