An estimated four million older people in the UK are lonely, so what can be done to solve the growing crisis?
It’s hard to describe the feeling of loneliness – for some it’s a daily ache, while others feel it acutely at unexpected moments. But it’s likely to be something that will affect us all at some point in our lives. In fact the Campaign to End Loneliness estimates that nine million people feel lonely in the UK today, and of these figures, four million of them are older people.
Additionally, according to the Age UK’s Evidence Review of loneliness later in life, nearly 3.6 million older people live at home alone, with half of older people surveyed saying that television or pets are their main form of company. Given
that loneliness not only has an impact on our mental health but can even influence our physical wellbeing with some health research pointing to it increasing the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s, it seems to be a critical issue that we’re facing.
And according to Robin Hewings, director of Campaigns, Policy and Research at the Campaign to End Loneliness, these numbers only look set to rise. “Our population is growing larger, we’re living longer and our society is changing,” he explains. “Simply put, there will be more of us and more of us will be older, which means it’s likely we’ll see these numbers grow.”
Loneliness can be exacerbated for those living alone or who have lost a loved one, both of which can be more likely as we get older. “Loneliness is harder to overcome in older age,” Robin says. “Older people are more likely to face life-changing events like retirement, long-term illness or bereavement. These events can happen in quick succession or even at the same time.”
The first step in combating it is recognising the feeling in yourself, especially if you’ve been feeling it for a while. And the second? Ask for help. There are plenty of initiatives aiming to help abate loneliness, like The
Campaign to End Loneliness, which is pushing ahead its latest campaign Be More Us, which is all about celebrating the small, everyday moments that bring us together.
‘We can all do something to tackle loneliness, no matter how small it is’
They’re not alone with Age UK also offering the befriending initiative Call in Time, where a volunteer befriender will phone an older person at an agreed time for a chat. The pair are matched on similar interests so can help provide friendly conversation and companionship on a regular basis. Alongside this, many local Age UKs also offer face-to-face befriending with volunteers coming round for a cup of tea and a chat.
Other solutions might even be as simple as looking for activities and groups that you can take up to meet new people if you’re physically able. Check your local Age UK centres, local library notice boards and council websites for listings. You could even look to take a course at the University of the Third Age, which has centres all over the UK and offers the opportunity to learn a new skill or subject in an exam-free environment. The NHS also recommends becoming more au fait with technology as phone and Skype conversations, as well as emails, are a great way to feel connected to people even if they’re far away.
And as Robin says, it’s important to remember that ‘we can all do something to tackle loneliness’ no matter how small it is. “Research suggests small moments of connection, like saying hello to someone in your local shop or smiling at someone on the bus, are an important way to tackle loneliness.” campaigntoendloneliness.org
LEFT: Look for groups who share the same interests
ABOVE: Age UK offer a face-to-face befriending initiative
Connect with your family and keep physically active