Loneliness: the invisible epidemic

Posted on: 17 July 2015 by Gareth Hargreaves

Which? Elderly Care study finds isolation and loneliness among older people at epidemic levels

loneliness among older people at epidemic levels

It’s a sad fact but one in 10 people aged 65 or over say they always, or often, feel lonely. When you work that out, it means that just over a million older people in the UK could beaffected by loneliness.

“Loneliness is sadly a very real issue for lots of people, and can be a consequence of a lack of communication, companionship or relationships” says Jenni Allen of Which? Elderly Care, “It can be felt by anyone at any age, but older people are particularly vulnerable.”

As we grow older, we are all more likely to be exposed to factors that can increase our feelings of loneliness or isolation.

“Loneliness can be caused by a number of different things, such as retirement - resulting in people missing the day-to-day contact they used to enjoy with work colleagues, the loss of a partner or isolation from friends and family,” Jenni commented.

There are lots of ways that you can help a relative or loved one overcome their feelings of isolation. From strengthening family ties, to helping them get online or out of the house and connecting with friends. But, if you think that your relative’s loneliness is caused by underlying mental health issues or depression, rather than individual circumstances; you should encourage them to visit their GP for advice.

Most people who are lonely want to increase the quality or quantity of their contact with other people but don’t feel they have the capability to do so.

Loneliness is an invisible blight which was drawn into the spotlight by Esther Rantzen in 2011 when she wrote an article based on her own experience since being bereaved and living alone.

Three years later, following overwhelming public support, Esther launched The Silver Line - a free 24-hour helpline that offers information, support and friendship to older people in the UK. In the first year, The Silver Line took almost 300,000 calls from those lonely and isolated. Speaking 12 months after the launch of the helpline, in a recent conversation with Which? Elderly Care, Esther commented:

“Before we launched The Silver Line just over a year ago, Ellen, a widow in her 80s, wrote to tell me about her family. Her husband and son had died, she has a devoted daughter who visits her twice a week, but as she explains, that still leaves her facing long periods of isolation:

‘Because I have health problems, I can go three days without seeing or speaking to anyone. I’m an optimist by nature, and sometimes I have to be, when I spend another pointless day, feeling that I am a waste of space.’

“Why should a clever active woman like Ellen, on whom her family relied, now consider herself a waste of space? That’s what loneliness does. It attacks confidence, self-esteem, and both physical and mental health suffers. And yet it can be so easily cured. All it takes is company. And it doesn’t have to be face to face.

“For just over a year, The Silver Line Helpline (0800 4 70 80 90) has been answering phone calls from older people. When you walk into our helpline base you hear the sound of laughter. There’s no ‘call-handling time’ and we love the conversations and the memories that getshared, for the majority of our callers have nobody to talk to at all, apart from us.

“So what have we learned over the past year? Firstly, how profound the need is and how crucially important it is to break through the prison of silence that loneliness creates. Secondly, how proud the older generation are and how determined they are ‘not to become burden’, as our callers tell us.

“Solitary confinement is usually the punishment for a serious crime. But we have learned from The Silver Line that far too often it is the punishment the thousands of people who call our helpline, whose only crime is to have grown old.”

Which? Elderly Care is a free website that provides independent information on all aspects of caring for older people. With an online guide to lonliness the site aims to help people spot the signs and help their relative cope with these often difficult emotions. If you are concerened about a loved one and would like advice on how you can support them please visit the Which? Elderly Care site here.

If you are suffering from the effects of loneliness and would like to contact theThe Silver Line, please visit their website here or call: 0800 4 70 80 90

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