One million over 65s are lonely; dramatic impact on mortality

The UK’s one million lonely older people who aren’t able to leave their homes and don’t have contact with friends or relatives are the focus of the first major summit on loneliness, hosted today jointly by Minister of State for Care Services Paul Burstow and the Campaign to End Loneliness.

The summit will be addressing both the health and social impacts of loneliness on older people. Research has shown that the health impacts of loneliness can be substantial – with a recent study reporting a fifty per cent reduction in the likelihood of mortality for individuals with strong social relationships1. Estimates suggest that 17 per cent of older people are in contact with family, friends and neighbours less than once a week.

Today’s summit will see charities, businesses, MPs and public sector organisations for the first time coming together to start a public discussion and consider how best each organisation can address and reduce loneliness in older age.

In support of the agenda, Pensions Minister Steve Webb will launch new online guidance from the DWP-funded Ageing Well programme and the Campaign to end Loneliness for councils to combat loneliness and isolation in older age.

A joined-up approach to this issue from across government and the independent sector is essential given the impact loneliness can have. Research has shown that loneliness can have a detrimental impact on mental and physical health, and the numbers of people who can’t get out and about or don’t have friends and families to visit are staggering. It is estimated that:
 More than one million people aged over 65 are often or always lonely
 12 per cent of older people feel trapped in their own home
 Six per cent of older people leave their house once a week or less
 Nearly 200,000 older people in the UK don’t get help to get out of their home

1 Andy P. Dickens, Suzanne H. Richards, Colin J. Greaves, and John L. Campbell, ‘Interventions Targeting Social Isolation in Older People: A Systematic Review’, BMC Public Health¸ Vol. 11 (2011), pp. 647 – 669, p. 647.

 17 per cent of older people are in contact with family, friends and neighbors less than once a week and 11 per cent are in contact less than once a month
 Over half (51 per cent) of all people aged 75 and over live alone
 36 per cent of people aged 65 and over in the UK feel out of touch with the pace of modern life and nine per cent say they feel cut off from society
 Half of all older people (about 5 million) say the television is their main company.

Care Services Minister Paul Burstow said:
“Loneliness is one of society’s unspoken tragedies. We all have elderly neighbours or relatives who live on their own. Lack of day-to-day contact can have a huge impact on their health.
“Research has shown that loneliness can be as harmful to your health as alcohol and tobacco, but we also know that people who have day to day contact live longer and healthier lives.
“The Government is working with the Campaign to End Loneliness to raise awareness about just how important even a simple phone call or visit can be to someone’s health. That’s why we’ll be working in partnership with the voluntary sector, businesses, local communities and others to make a difference.”
Laura Ferguson, Director of the Campaign to End Loneliness said:

“Loneliness presents a very real threat to people’s health. It has been shown to be worse than obesity and as bad as lifelong smoking, so we are excited about this chance to give health commissioners the information they need to improve services that alleviate and prevent loneliness.

“This will ultimately improve the health and wellbeing of older people, and deliver savings to both health and social care in the long term”.

Minister for Pensions Steve Webb said:

“We must do all we can to help older people remain active and involved in their local communities. We have provided £1 million through our Active at 60 programme to help people most at risk of longer-term social isolation following retirement. And the online guidance launched today will help councils make sure they are not left lonely and isolated.

“We are beginning to meet the challenges of our ageing society through the Age Action Alliance network, supported by organisations across the public, private and voluntary sectors. And older people are already shaping local services to meet their needs through the Ageing Well programme.”