On a day when love is celebrated across the world, it seems apt to examine the other side of the coin: loneliness.
The appointment of Tracey Crouch as the Minister for Loneliness highlights its increasing public profile. And rightly so, as illustrated by the now much used statistic that loneliness is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, it’s not just the depth of the problem that’s staggering – it’s also the scale. Although not a problem exclusive to those in later life, a recent English Longtitudinal ageing study found that 1.2m people over 65 in the UK are persistently or chronically lonely.
Much has been done across the public and VCS sector, with excellent initiatives, such as the Campaign to End Loneliness and the Jo Cox Foundation, grappling with the complexities of the loneliness. Thanks to their work, it has become clear that there is no silver bullet to fix the problem. Instead, it requires collaboration on a national, local and individual level, with many organisations bringing potential solutions to the table.
Although loneliness is often associated with people living in their own homes, it is also rife in settings where a person may be surrounded by other older people. This is illustrated in Care Homes, covered by an excellent blog written by Tim Owen. Furthermore, going into sheltered housing does not ‘guard against’ loneliness (as might be expected by family members) – studies have shown little differences in the levels of loneliness across settings.
So, how can we combat loneliness?
- Concentrate on the positives. Older adults need to enjoy themselves, to do what they like doing – this could be attending a drawing class in a care home, a game of seated volleyball in their communal sheltered lounge, or going on a trip to the beach. This means bringing activity to an audience that doesn’t always know what’s possible, in environments they are used to, led by people they trust – improving likelihood of engagement.
- Provide opportunities for meaningful volunteering. Contribution plays a part in improving self-esteem and provides valuable opportunities for social engagement. This means focusing on what people can achieve, not focusing on their problem now. Give older people a net with which to fish, rather than just providing the fish.
From doing these two things, Oomph! have seen some positive results so far – EQ-5D improvements have been encouraging (13% increase compared to ELSA comparisons), but through the rigorous academic study of our community work, we hope to tease out more on the mental and social impact.
One exercise session a week may not may not solve the loneliness issue – no single solution will. But ensuring there are enjoyable and easily accessible opportunities for social engagement will certainly improve the lives of many older people. We’re committed to positive ageing and to end loneliness. That would bring joy to our hearts on Valentines Day!
To learn more, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
SOURCE: Burholt, V., Nash, P. and Philips, J. 2013. The impact of supported living environments on social resources and the experience of loneliness for older widows living in Wales: An exploratory mediation analysis Family Science 4(1): 121-132