Home alone

An es­ti­mated four mil­lion older peo­ple in the UK are lonely, so what can be done to solve the grow­ing cri­sis?

EDP Norfolk - - RETIREMENT - WORDS: Fay Wat­son

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

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