International research conference highlights the health threat of loneliness

Minister for Care Services, Paul Burstow, launches an online toolkit for local health organisations and councils to address loneliness in older age.

An international research conference is being held today which highlights that loneliness should be considered a major health issue. The conference, titled What Do We Know About Loneliness? will investigate the research that brings to light huge numbers of older people affected by loneliness in the UK:

  • 8 to 10% who are intensely lonely
  • 20% of the older population who are mildly lonely

It will also be the first UK event to bring together worldwide experts who have found that loneliness can lead to cardiovascular disease, hypertension, cognitive decline and poor mental health.

At this conference, held by the Campaign to End Loneliness in collaboration with Age UK Oxfordshire, Paul Burstow MP, Minister for Care Services, will launch a new digital toolkit for health and wellbeing boards as part of the solution to loneliness in older age.

Care Services Minister Paul Burstow said:

“Too many people in our society, particularly older people, are cut-off and isolated. We need to do more as a society to recognise those at risk of loneliness and isolation and help them to stay connected.

Loneliness can have a significant impact on people’s health. Yet, unlike risks such as alcohol and obesity, it is still out of sight.
Relationships can help keep us well, and we can all play a part in tackling loneliness. That is why we have funded work on a toolkit for Health and Wellbeing Boards to support local councils and the NHS to take action to address the issue of loneliness in their area.”

This toolkit urges local health organisations and councils to make tackling loneliness an equivalent public health priority to smoking cessation and reducing obesity. It helps to identify those at risk of loneliness, gives advice on how to tackle the growing problem and has been created by the Campaign to End Loneliness and funded by the Department of Health.

The loneliness and isolation toolkit for health and wellbeing boards will enable boards to:

  • identify those at risk of loneliness
  • prioritise the hardest to reach
  • involve older people in their priority-setting
  • take action to tackle this public health problem.

Loneliness in older age is increasingly being recognised by councils and commissioners across the country as an urgent issue in their communities.

Dr Shikha Pitalia, a GP from St Helens, Merseyside said

“Loneliness is a distressing consequence and a poignant reflection on today’s lifestyles. Patients of all ages, but particularly the elderly, face the far-reaching corollary of the powerful impact loneliness has on their health and wellbeing. GPs regularly observe the adverse effects loneliness has on the control of many longterm conditions. Far too often patients end up on multiple medications or in hospital as emergency admissions because their isolation makes it difficult for them to cope with their illness. Depression and lack of physical activity are significant contributing factors to these unacceptable outcomes. Health and wellbeing boards in partnership with emerging CCGs should embrace the unique opportunity to innovate and codesign pathways which successfully address these very important issues related to loneliness.”