More than half of over 85s, the country’s fastest growing age group, feel lonely some or all of the time.
It’s time to “break the taboo” around loneliness says CentreForum in a report supported by Age UK.
The think tank warns that more must be done to combat loneliness and isolation among Britain’s oldest residents in their new report.
It says this is not just a personal tragedy for the individuals affected, but also places pressure on the NHS through related health problems and on the care services sector.
Socially isolated and lonely adults are more likely to be admitted to residential and nursery care early, it points out.
The report ‘Ageing alone’ contains case studies showing how loneliness among older people is being tackled across the UK.
But it does say that access to services is patchy and there is a need for relevant organisations to work together to reach isolated over 85s.
Loneliness in general is under regarded as a health priority, it adds.
The report finds among other things that only around half of local health and wellbeing boards which have published a joint health and wellbeing strategy acknowledge loneliness and isolation in their plans.
In response, it says that more research needs to be undertaken by government on the financial costs of loneliness as the number of people aged 85 and over increases.
Other recommendations include a requirement on all health and wellbeing boards to address loneliness and a call for more structured opportunities for volunteers to build relationships with older people.
Norman Lamb MP, Minister of State for Care and Support, said: “Loneliness needs to be tackled by a change in society’s attitude. Every one of us can help to combat loneliness and we all need to be more creative about how we help elderly people and the chronically lonely to feel more a part of society.”
“We are working with partners like the Campaign to End Loneliness to reduce levels of loneliness and help people to understand the link between people’s relationships and their mental and physical health and wellbeing. I am pleased to see CentreForum focusing on this important area.”
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said:
“We are delighted to support this CentreForum project because the evidence increasingly shows that loneliness not only makes life miserable for far too many older people, it also represents a real threat to their health.”
At the moment we aren’t doing enough in this country to help older people avoid and overcome loneliness, and many of the local services that we know older people value, like lunch clubs, are struggling to survive because of council funding cuts.”
“We hope this report will inspire local and national policymakers to want to do more, and give them the tools to know how to do so effectively.”
James Kempton, Associate Director, Education and Social Policy at CentreForum and report co-author, said: “Growing older does not have to mean growing lonelier. There are fantastic projects out there showing how you can make a huge difference. But too many of the oldest old are missing out and that will only get worse as life expectancy increases.”
“Loneliness is a personal tragedy and as a society we should be aiming to do more. A key first step is for government and the new health and wellbeing boards to recognise loneliness as an important public health priority.”
What is loneliness and why does it matter?
Loneliness is having the feeling of not having the desired quantity and quality of relationships.
This can either be emotional loneliness which results from the absence or loss of a significant relationship in one’s life; and social loneliness which is the loss or absence of an accessible social network (i.e. friends or work colleagues).
Loneliness transcends age and the feelings can increase or decrease at different stages during one’s life depending on circumstance.
It is important to note that the situations of living alone, social isolation and solitude, are distinct from the feeling of loneliness. It is perfectly possible for someone to live alone or enjoy solitude without feeling lonely, but research suggests that the presence of one is often associated with the other, especially among older people.
The report is being launched today 29 April.