Combating loneliness

There is growing recognition that loneliness is a serious problem, with far reaching implications, not just for individuals, but also for wider communities, which merits the attention of local authorities. Whilst in the past, loneliness was sometimes viewed as a trivial matter, it is increasingly understood to be a serious condition which can affect a person’s mental and physical health very detrimentally. Acute loneliness has been consistently estimated to affect around 10-13 per cent of older people. Indeed, recent estimates place the number of people aged over 65 who are often or always lonely at over one million.

Combating loneliness: a guide for local authorities, published by the Local Government Association (23rd December 2016) warns that the impact of older people's loneliness and isolation on health and social care means that it must be recognised as a major public health issue. The report outlines a framework for tackling loneliness in local communities and provides examples of innovative practice from local authorities around the country. A recent study featured in the BMJ found that loneliness and isolation are associated with a 30 per cent higher risk of having a stroke or developing heart disease. The health impact of loneliness is also said to be the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day. More and more councils, which have responsibility for public health, are launching new initiatives to tackle loneliness, as it becomes an increasing priority.

No one should have no one: working to end loneliness amongst older people, a report published by Age UK (6th January 2017) warns that loneliness leads to an increased demand on health services, partly because isolated people are more likely to develop health conditions, such as heart problems, depression and dementia. The launch of the report follows Age UK’s no one should have no one campaign which last month urged people to pledge their support for lonely older people by donating or volunteering.The report also outlines the early findings of a pilot programme, entitled ‘Testing Promising Approaches to Reducing Loneliness’, that takes a community-based approach to tackling loneliness, exploring new ways to tackle the isolation plaguing so many people.

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