Loneliness and the elderly

Posted on October 12, 2017 by Roger Cotton

Elderly lady grasping a mug

As we live longer, the prevalence of loneliness and isolation among the elderly increases. Is it inevitable?

Sometimes it isn't that a person is alone, it's the quality of social contact they lack.

We're a civilised society and yet many elderly neighbours live with virtually no communication with others for weeks on end. We assume they must have contact with somebody, just not us.

Your home can become like a prison if you lack contact with the outside world. The  'Campaign to end loneliness' produced a video showing how isolating lack of contact is at any age. Watch it here.

At a Jo Cox Loneliness Commission event I heard of an elderly person who spends 30 minutes each day at a stop every day buying one item, providing their only human contact. The Silver Line charity tells of one elderly gentleman leaving his front door open in the hope that anyone would walk in. Worse, a lonely old man considering shop-lifting knowing if caught he'd get some human connection and conversation.

Is the loneliness of the elderly too big a problem to solve?

By 2020, it's estimated that 25% of the UK population will be over 65 years of age. Over half of all over-75 year olds live alone and 10% of over 65 year olds say they're always or often lonely - that's over a million people. The Silver line charity took almost 300,000 calls from lonely elderly callers in their first year with many in the early hours of the morning. Let's just accept this is a problem we should all try to solve.

There's a raft of charitable organisations and individuals making a difference - befriending programmes, weekly telephone calls, lunch clubs, 'men-in-sheds' etc. Some charities engage the elderly as volunteers to befriend or support other elderly people, e.g. RVS and Age UK. It gives them a purpose and reduces the risk of their own isolation. But the problem of loneliness, isolation and lack of physical activity exists and is growing.

I'm reminded of this story:

'The Starfish Story', about a boy picking up and gently throwing starfish back in the ocean, where there were hundreds if not thousands of them stranded on the beach. A passer-by remarked to the boy, "Do you realise there are miles of miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can't make any difference." To which the boy, picked up another starfish, threw it in the surf, then smiling at the man, said; "I made a difference to that one."

At Simplyhealth we're using our Corporate Giving to help tackle the issue of loneliness amongst the elderly; by supporting The Silver Line charity and Royal Voluntary Service's Home from Hospital programme. We're working with a range of providers developing projects to tackle the isolation of the elderly and the lack of physical activity in our local communities. This in turn will help with their mental wellbeing, another issue making news headlines.

We may be like the little boy in 'The Starfish Story', but we're happy making a difference to as many of the elderly as our funding enables.

Will you or your company be part of that starfish story for the elderly?