Heart charity warns of health risks of social isolation in older people

Heart charity warns of health risks of social isolation in older people

BHF appeals to the UK’s over 50s to meet people through volunteering

According to new research from the British Heart Foundation (BHF) meeting people is one of the key reasons for giving time to charity for those reaching, or already at retirement age₁. In light of this the BHF is appealing to the 22.7 million over 50’s in the UK₂ , to join their fight against cardiovascular disease by volunteering in their local community. Not only will volunteers get to meet new people but they can put their life-skills to use leading up to retirement.

Findings from a review of research from the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCiE) into ‘Preventing Loneliness and Social Isolation’₃ earlier this month (October 2014) highlighted the importance of community involvement and participating in community activities as a means of preventing loneliness and social isolation in older people.

The research, originally conducted by the SCiE in 2011, also warns of the impact of loneliness and social isolation on individual’s health and quality of life.

It is well documented that older people are particularly vulnerable to social isolation or loneliness due to loss of friends and family, mobility or income. In a study of 6,500 UK men and women aged over 52 it was found that being isolated from family and friends was linked with a 26% higher death risk over seven years. Loneliness was more common in women and was associated with a range of health conditions, including coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke, and clinical depression₄.

The BHF survey, which consisted of almost 2000 of the charities volunteers from across the UK, also revealed that over half of those volunteering with the BHF were aged 56 and over and third of all those surveyed also retired. Over half of the charities volunteers also cited the social element of their roles as being the part of their job they enjoy the most.

The BHF has a diverse community of volunteers. Volunteering with a charity is a great way to meet new friends, to occupy time in a really positive way and to become part of a team.

Volunteering is also great for your well-being. Research from Community Service Volunteers (CSV) has found older people who volunteer are happier, feel less isolated and can have a better quality of life₅.

Professor Andrew Steptoe, director of the Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care at University College London, said: “Social connections can provide emotional support and warmth which is important but they also provide things like advice, making sure people take their medication and provide support in helping them to do things.

“It would suggest that those practical aspects are quite important for older people’s survival.

“There’s been such an increase in people living alone. In the last 15 years, the number of 55 to 64-year-olds living alone has increased by 50%.

“Results from research into loneliness and social isolation does imply that these factors do have a negative impact on cardiovascular health, however, there may be further contributing factors to consider, such as economic background. That said, there seems to be strong evidence that community schemes which encourage socialisation do have a positive impact for those who feel isolated in society.”

The BHF has volunteering opportunities across the country bhf.org.uk/volunteer