Loneliness has a devastating impact on people’s lives. Around 1m people in the UK are currently deemed to be ‘chronically lonely’, with many going as long as a month without speaking to anyone and citing the TV as their only company.
According to research from Age UK and The Campaign to End Loneliness, it is now one of the biggest issues facing older people and is thought to impact some 2.9m men and women aged 65 and over each year.
Ahead of a new report: ‘Promising approaches to reducing loneliness and isolation in later life’, Professor Kevin Fenton, National Director of Health and Wellbeing, Public Health England, said:
“The devastating impact loneliness can have on our mental and physical health makes it an issue we can ill-afford to ignore. But loneliness is also a deeply personal experience – unique to every individual; a problem with different causes and different consequences for each and every one of us. And that makes addressing loneliness complex.
“Most of us will experience loneliness at some point in our lives, but for many it will be transitory. Sadly though, for a growing number of older people loneliness defines and devastates their lives.”
The physical effects
Research from the Campaign to End Loneliness has found that social isolation is harmful to people’s physical health, as well as their mental health.
It also means that loneliness can contribute in a very real way to many older people going into short and long-term residential care placements before they may feel ready to do so.
Of course the quality of individual services plays a massive part in the decision-making process and recent data shows a surprising relationship between the overall quality of care services and affluence in counties, with some of the top scoring having a higher life expectancy but lower average income.
The report addresses a number of specific concerns around the issue, as being a major public health challenge and has made a number of critical recommendations.
Telephone befriending services in particular were found to have a key role to play in ending loneliness among older people. Friendship Calls or Good Day calls offer a vital lifeline for many people who may not otherwise receive contact from anyone.
Telephone Befriending Schemes have received huge praise from those who use them, while offering volunteers a very active way of helping older people.
There are also a number of regional schemes highlighted in the report aimed at getting older people socially active.
These include such as: CHIT CHAT, a national lottery-funded scheme to help older people in the East Durham area; Time for Life – Devon, a community-enabling service that tackles social isolation; or Touchstones, a project in Yorkshire aimed at older people who have suffered bereavement.
A call in time
Services such as Age UK’s Call in Time service or Friends of the Elderly’s Phoning Friends service have seen amazing results, both for older people living on their own and for those living in residential care. It only requires one or two hours each week from volunteers and can dramatically help improve someone’s life.
The Call in Time service is not open to the public, but is operated through businesses who join the scheme and then open it up to employees who are interested in giving something back to the community.