Problems of loneliness and isolation in elderly

Loneliness is a major problem faced by elderly people throughout the UK and though it presents itself less obviously than psychological conditions such as dementia, people suffering from loneliness face serious health consequences

These include increased stress and anxiety, increased chance of depression, increased risk of alcohol and other habit forming substance abuse, decreased health of the heart and changes to their immune systems

Loneliness has also been observed to speed up the degenerative effects of illnesses, even increasing the fatality rate of diseases such as cancer.  It is only now becoming clear how loneliness can impact people’s lives and that for the elderly, who face increased risk of physical and psychological conditions than the younger generations, loneliness can be a real risk that should not be ignored or downplayed

Though loneliness is often thought of more as a feeling than an actual condition, there is a simple way of determining whether someone is a sufferer: does his or her idea of adequate social interaction match with the reality of his/her situation

If there is a disparity between how much interaction someone would like and the amount she receives, then she is likely to be suffering from loneliness

It is important to remember that loneliness is subjective, and that some people prefer a higher level of interaction than others

It is not surprising that old people are vulnerable to loneliness; often living by themselves, without a job or a set daily routine to ensure social interaction, it is down to elderly people to arrange their lives, so that they receive enough social interaction

However, with 40% of older people having a medical condition that limits their ability to take part in activities, and with one third of pensioners living in near poverty, it can be extremely difficult for older people to create a way of fulfilling their interaction needs.  Indeed, 48% of older people rely on the television for their main form of company

For the elderly, dealing with isolation and loneliness is difficult, as recent council cuts have seen the closure of many day centres across the country and there is currently no state service that helps the elderly combat loneliness, so help with the condition varies depending on one’s locality

Here are some of the facilities that may be available for help:

  • Day Centres – though many have shut down, there are still day centres that operate specifically for older people, and are usually a hub of interaction.  Contact your local council to find out if there are Day Centres near you
  • Lunch Clubs and other Voluntary Groups – Small scale groups can be difficult to find, but can provide tight knit communities.  Trying contacting the local council to see if they can provide information on local voluntary groups, look on notice boards inside libraries, and find out if local churches or places of worship hold friendship groups (these are generally open to all faiths)
  • Older People’s Forums – Older people’s forums have information about the local community, advice for older people, and are a platform for advocacy and conversation for the elderly.  They generally have a good online presence too
  • Charities – There are a range of charities that help older people, each with a certain direction that determines their services.  These services can range from the regular meetings of friendship/interest clubs held by Age UK and The Royal Voluntary Service, to the services of NBFA Assisting the Elderly, who offer free week long holidays and pain relief machines.  There are many smaller charities with very useful services all over the UK, so even if a major charity doesn’t have anything in your area, there may be a small one that does
  • This is not an exhaustive list of options available, but from my experience these are the most common groups catering specifically for elderly people.  However, there are a myriad of clubs, like local choirs, that are not age specific, and are also great places to make new friends
  • As a conclusion, I thought it might be interesting to look at some of the responses that we’ve had at NBFA Assisting the Elderly from our Break-Away programme, a service that offers people over 65 who are on a low income and who haven’t been on holiday for three years or more a free five day holiday.  Our services are designed to counter isolation and loneliness specifically, but there are many other organisations who can offer services that can give similar effects:

“It’s woken me up…I realise all right this is my life here but there’s also a life out there and I must get out to it.” Mr Major

“Everybody, whatever situation they’re in, needs a break, you know, just to get away from maybe the four walls that they live in, get away to have new experiences or to refresh experiences.” Mr Lloyd

 “I am writing on behalf of my mother as she has not stopped talking about her fantastic trip away.  I cannot thank you enough for making my mum so happy.” A participant’s daughter.

I hope that, through this article, loneliness and isolation will be understood a little better, and that those who have to face them, or know family or friends who are currently facing them, will have a better idea of how to cope and find the interaction they need

There is no shame in being lonely; elderly people have the odds stacked against them through health and lack of infrastructure.  The voluntary organisations and charities know this, it’s why they exist, and it’s why they work hard to make sure that older people are able to socialise and make friends




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