Loneliness is finally being recognised as one of the greatest public health challenges of our time.
Three quarters of GPs are seeing between one and five people a day suffering with loneliness, which is linked to a range of damaging health impacts, like heart disease, strokes and Alzheimer’s disease.
And it’s a challenge that affects the older generation most. Around 200,000 older people have not had a conversation with a friend or relative in more than a month. But recent research* shows that 42 per cent of lonely people couldn’t bear to have anyone worrying about them, and 37 per cent did not want to be a burden.
A Government plan
Will the first loneliness strategy recently launched by the Prime Minster provide solutions to the loneliness epidemic?
By 2023, all GPs in England will be able to refer patients experiencing loneliness to community activities and voluntary services. Businesses are launching their own initiatives – such as Sainsbury’s ‘Talking Tables’ scheme, Royal Mail postal workers will be trialling a check-up service on lonely people as part of their rounds and £1.8m has been pledged to transform community spaces.
Taking the initiative
Research suggests that seventy per cent of pensioners are using social networking sites to stay connected when home alone. 10 per cent had even started dating again!
Worryingly, 80 per cent of those who were lonely had never told anyone else about this. Maybe that’s because one fifth said their families had enough of their own worries. Having said that, almost half of respondents believed children should look after their older parents.
It is too easy to get caught-up in our daily lives and to see the loneliness epidemic as someone else’s problem, but we all have a responsibility to the older people living in our communities. We will all be part of that community one day, after all.
An impromptu chat with those living next door, being invited round for dinner once in a while and even just a cheerful ‘good morning!’ are among the many thoughtful actions that can make all the difference when you’re feeling alone.
* Survey of 1,000 pensioners surveyed by McCarthy and Stone 2018.