According to a YouGov poll fewer than one in five people have ever seen or heard information about loneliness as a health risk, whilst fewer than one in three people who work in health and social care professions have. This means that loneliness very often goes unnoticed and therefore untreated.
In older age there is a very fine line between independence and isolation. According to Age Concern, those aged over 65 are twice as likely as other age groups to spend over 21 hours of the day alone, 51% of people aged 75 and over live alone (with 1 in 10 saying they suffer from “intense” loneliness) and more than 5 million older people say the television is their main company.
“I get lonely. You can’t help it. The worst day is Sunday-that’s my worst day. I don’t know why, because every day is the same when you’re at home all day”
Loneliness is bad for your health. Researchers rate loneliness as a higher risk than lifelong smoking and link the lack of social interaction with the onset of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s: an illness that costs us an estimated £20 billion a year with an even greater human cost.
It has also been evidenced that loneliness makes it harder to regulate behaviour, leading to excessive drinking, unhealthier diets or less exercise being undertaken.
Put simply, older people that have less contact with others are more at risk of depression and ill-health caused by isolation and loneliness. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), rates of depression rise with age, from 25% of older people living in the community to 40% at age 85 and beyond.
“The problems of loneliness and isolation need to be put on an equal footing with any other condition associated with ageing. Ending loneliness should be part of the solution to the challenge of reforming care and support” says Campaign to End Loneliness director Laura Ferguson.
“There are probably thousands like her. Men and women who have lived a lot and loved a lot. Men and women who are not yet done with being ferocious and bright but for whom time now stands empty as they wait in their homes full of silence; their only misunderstanding to have lived to an age when they are no longer coveted by a society addicted to youth” (Dr Ishani Kar-Purkayastha MRCP)
In old age, with friends having passed on, decreased mobility and reduced confidence the burden usually falls on family and friends to visit – and they are generally happy to take on this responsibility. However, due to other commitments (work, children etc.) the frequency and length of these visits may not be sufficient to address the loneliness and isolation issue.
Home Instead can support families to provide the encouragement, stimulation and assistance that is required to help loved ones stay safe and healthy in their own homes. Further information please call 01902 425 988 or visit www.homeinstead.co.uk/wolverhampton.