The truth about elderly loneliness
Shockingly, there are 1.2 million chronically lonely older people in the UK, and half a million older people go at least five or six days a week without seeing or speaking to anyone at all (Age UK 2016, No-one should have no one).
There are over 2.2 million people aged 75 and over living alone in Great Britain, an increase of almost a quarter (24%) over the past 20 years (ONS). Two fifths of all older people (about 3.9 million) say the television is their main company (Age, U.K., 2014. Evidence Review: Loneliness in Later Life. London: Age UK).
Loneliness is not only hard to bear in everyday life, but can also have a direct effect on your health, with chronically lonely people more likely to suffer from depression, heart disease and dementia, and has even been likened to being as bad for you as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. (Holt-Lunstad, 2010)
So, if you know an elderly person who is feeling lonely, or you may yourself be feeling alone, what is the answer? I’ve made is my personal mission to tackle loneliness in our communities in West Sussex, as I have seen the positive effects that companionship can have.
Firstly, think about the relationships that may have fallen by the wayside. Did you used to go to clubs or societies that you don’t any more? Is it an issue of mobility or transport? Perhaps think about a different route: if you can’t get the bus anymore, can you share a taxi or look for a similar group closer? If it’s a friendship you are missing, why not try rekindling the friendship through emails, letters or even technology such as Skype (a video calling service)?
Find new connections
If you don’t have any existing relationships to rekindle, then look for new connections. Think about your passions, hobbies or interests and try to join a group of like-minded people, then you will always have something in common to talk about. Try your local library, church, volunteering service, or even try learning something new: the University of the Third Age in Chichester has some really interesting courses and talks for a small annual fee.
Care and companionship
If both of those options feel too much as you are recovering from an operation, fall or are in poor health, you could consider a live-in carer. My company, ProMedica24 match like-minded live-in carers to clients. The right live-in carer can help with everyday life but also be a companion, lifting spirits and providing conversation where once there was quiet.
Loneliness is a very difficult subject to tackle, however I am consistently surprised and delighted by the attitudes of our elderly generation in West Sussex. I had an enquiry from a gentleman who lived alone and felt he wanted companionship, so called me to offer his services to go out on behalf of ProMedica24 to visit other people and be their companion – such a positive thought process! Although we didn’t take him up on his offer, this type of positive thinking will help to introduce new opportunities to make networks.
If you can, try to make a new connection today. Look for a local meet-up on a subject you are interested in, call an old friend, pop round to a neighbour or simply put pen to paper and write a card to someone you’ve been thinking of. You might even meet somebody new on the stroll to the postbox.
Chris White-Smith is the owner of Promedica24 West Sussex, which matches live-in carers to clients who need care at home. Call Chris on 01243 684085 if you’d like to discuss live-in care.