It’s a fact of modern life that families are becoming more and more fragmented and our elderly are the most likely to suffer in these circumstances. If we don’t have close family living nearby as we age we are more likely to suffer from loneliness, depression, insomnia, dementia and even high blood pressure; all serious health issues which are seemingly on the increase.
As we age and retire from the workplace we are likely to spend increased numbers of hours within the confines of our homes and this is the point at which we are going to start to suffer from the onset of loneliness. The more time we spend alone the more likely we are to smoke, eat and drink more and get less exercise, all of which could lead to serious health problems, (which in turn increases the possibility that we will spend even more time trapped indoors).
It’s a vicious circle which is difficult to break and, unfortunately, as the problem grows so too does the reluctance to admit to feeling isolated, mainly because the majority of people suffering extreme loneliness are most likely to live alone and they may be fearful of being forced to leave the familiarity of their own homes.
There are ways to combat this complicated and escalating social problem, many of which require a far-reaching solution and commitment from a number of entities:
Government and Local Authorities
These organisations should be the first to recognise and provide funding for support networks and group.
- The Department of Health is the main organisation who could implement nationwide measures by identifying those at serious risk or already suffering from loneliness.
- Some local authorities have already instigated ‘Local Loneliness plans’ and organised focus groups and interviews with senior residents to discuss how loneliness has affected their physical health and emotional wellbeing. Some of the steps taken include:
- Identifying and approaching single and recently bereaved seniors and those with visibility impairment and mobility issues.
- Providing or improving both community and public transport.
- Encouraging GPs to work with charities to provide additional support.
- Funding community organisations to help the lonely by forming activity clubs and expanding existing befriending schemes.
- Organising respite for carers who are increasingly identified as suffering from loneliness and isolation
- Exploring ways in which to help older people access IT to enable them to communicate with family and friends.
Unfortunately almost half of the Local Authorities in England have failed to recognise loneliness in their strategies. In these deficient areas, the only real help is from charitable organisations and local community incentives, often organised by volunteers.
Volunteer your services
If you are concerned that a family member, friend or neighbour may be struggling to cope alone you could gently begin to research local incentives or offer your own time and services. Even if you don’t actually know anyone who is lonely, your help is still valuable:
- Many national charities working with older people will have local branches or partners, including Age UK and Contact the Elderly. They would certainly welcome your help and support.
- Most volunteers find that they benefit from befriending a local senior as much as the recipient.
- If you love reading you could offer your services to housebound locals or even set up your own group whereby several people can benefit.
- Simply offering your services to pick up a bit of shopping etc. could make a huge difference to a neighbour.
- The Campaign to End Loneliness invites any organisation working to tackle loneliness to join us and currently works with more than 730 organisations across the UK, all committed to doing something about loneliness – and all in need of support and volunteers
If you are a lonely senior
If you are feeling depressed and live alone it may be that you are suffering from loneliness. There are steps you can take to get some help.
- It’s important to recognise that it isn’t your fault and there are people you can talk to and organisations who can provide support.
- Your GP is your first port of call – they will know of local authority incentives.
- Citizens Advice or the local library should be able to provide you with phone numbers for local charities and organisations who could help you to identify groups you can join.
- If you are mobile why not get yourself out there and volunteer your services to help someone else who is lonely. You will be helping yourself and others at the same time and may make some good friendships along the way.
The first step to combatting loneliness, particularly in the elderly, is to identify those who may be suffering and then try and gently guide them in the right direction to get as much help as possible. Even when there are huge gaps in the help provided by local authorities there are still organisations that have instigated programmes and activities specifically designed to get people together, talking and making new friendships. It’s about time we all stepped up our efforts in the quest to eliminate loneliness.