Loneliness in later life is on the rise, with millions of older people reporting that they feel ignored or invisible. In fact, there are over 200,000 older people in the UK who haven’t spoken to anybody in the past month.
As the UK’s leading charity supporting the wellbeing of older people, Age UK has the expertise required to tackle this important issue. With this in mind, we recently launched a partnership with 13 local Age UK branches across England and Wales to deliver individually tailored support to older people going through major life transitions in order to improve wellbeing, increase independence, and reduce loneliness.
We spoke to Pam Creaven, Services Director at Age UK, to find more about loneliness in later life and what we can do to combat loneliness.
How widespread is loneliness amongst older people in the UK?
Figures suggest there are currently 3.6 million older people living alone in the UK, with 1.4 million of them feeling ignored by others and cut off from society.
It is predicted that by 2066 there will be more than 20 million people over 65; with an aging population and an underfunded social care system that will struggle to cope, the number of lonely people and the complexity of their needs is likely to increase.
Why is loneliness such a problem amongst older people?
Studies have identified a number of factors associated with being lonely in older age, including a lack of social networks and health problems.
Many older people live alone, possibly because they’re widowed or live far away from their families. Others simply have limited opportunities to socialise. As people get older, their health tends to decline, and cognitive and sensory impairment or reduced mobility can impact their ability to leave the house and maintain relationships.
What effect can loneliness have on a person’s health?
Chronic loneliness is associated with a number of health conditions including depression, psychological stress, and an increased risk of developing dementia.
Our research has also shown that social isolation is a stress that suppresses the immune cells involved in killing viruses and bacteria.
What can we do as individuals to help ease the issue of loneliness?
We believe that “no one should have no one to turn to”, so first and foremost it’s important that people are made to feel that they are not alone.
If you have an older friend or relative, keep in contact with them, particularly if they live further away. You can also look out for older neighbours by popping in for a cup of tea, or giving them a hand with their shopping. Alternatively, you could volunteer to work at your local Age UK, where coffee mornings and other events provide important opportunities for socialising and activities.
What is Age UK doing to tackle loneliness and isolation amongst older people?
We offer a wide range of support which helps older people to make new friends or keep in touch with old ones.
Our telephone and face-to-face befriending services allow us to match older people with volunteers with similar interests for a regular chat. Our network of local Age UK charities also run transport services, lunch clubs, day centres, exercise classes and other social events which give people the chance to get out of the house and meet new people.
The Age UK website provides comprehensive information and advice, whether it’s on the steps a person can take to make new connections, or how to spot the signs of loneliness and offer help.
Through our partnership with the MCF, we are able to launch our Later Life Goals programme in 13 areas across England and Wales, which will support around 10,000 lonely older people. The programme supports people in setting life goals, be it financial, health or social, with the core aim of using these goals to combat loneliness or social isolation.
How does our society need to change in order to prevent the issue from growing?
Age UK is proud to be a part of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, which was started by the late MP, whose desire in her own words was to ‘turbo charge the public’s awareness of loneliness’. The Commission is an independent, cross-party body that serves to highlight that we can, and should, be doing more to help lonely people in our community.
We also need to raise awareness of the scale of the issue, which can only happen with top-down action from the government, including a UK-wide strategy and a national indicator on loneliness – across all ages, not just older people.
Where can people turn if they are feeling lonely?
Loneliness is incredibly personal and can manifest itself in a number of different ways, so there’s no one cause or solution. But if a person is feeling lonely, it’s vitally important they remind themselves that they’re not alone, because there are lots of people who can provide an understanding ear and some assistance.
Any older person who feels isolated should contact their local Age UK branch, which can provide them with straightforward advice, companionship, and a wide range of other practical services.
Do you need help?
If you feel lonely or know of someone who may be socially isolated, get in touch with Age UK:
0808 800 4444
Lines are open 8am-7pm, 365 days a year.
Did you know?
The MCF also has links to social groups for older people. Get in touch to find out more:
0800 035 60 90