Dec 2017: How loneliness contributes to illness

Health

Throughout our lives, loneliness may not be on our radar. From schooldays and working weeks to an active family life – many of us are constantly in contact with at least one other person.

However, Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard, Britain’s most senior GP, has stated that loneliness can be just as detrimental to a person’s health as many long-term illnesses.

Three out of five GPs report that they see between one and five lonely people every day. Age UK states that more than two million people over the age of 75 live alone. It’s clear that loneliness and isolation exist as very real problems for older generations.

The findings

Over recent years, studies into the impact of loneliness have led to the conclusion that lacking social connections could have serious implications for our health.

Those with a good social network are 50% more likely to live longer than those without. Simply keeping up regular social activity can slow cognitive decline and reduce the chance of obesity or coronary heart disease.

Loneliness is especially an issue for an ageing population. Age UK has reported that older people may become socially isolated for a variety of reasons such as leaving the workplace, the death of a spouse, becoming less able, or a combination of these factors.

The Campaign to End Loneliness, which has been running since 2011, recognises that isolation of older people is particularly prevalent in the UK. Age UK agrees, stating: “Hundreds of thousands of elderly people are lonely and cut off from society in this country, especially those over the age of 75.”

How to combat loneliness

Loneliness in later life is not an inevitability. Group activities are particularly useful in helping to prevent older people feeling adrift from society.

Good residential care can help vastly in this respect: care homes provide otherwise isolated older people with a community of peers and in-built, natural, daily interaction.

With care homes increasingly providing individually tailored care, this means greater independence and a well-rounded mix of activities. Residents in high quality care homes can benefit from facilities such as cinemas, gyms and snooker rooms. Meal times, for example, become vital social meeting points.

A friendly ear

Care home staff are not just there to ensure the safety of residents, they become trusted confidants and an integral part of residents’ lives.

They don’t have to be nurses either. Just having someone to talk to makes it more likely that health problems are mentioned and help is sought early. Sometimes a sympathetic ear is more useful than a prescription, says Dr Stokes-Lampard.

Residential care can be key in providing older people with the company and social connections they need for a happy and healthy life, alongside daily support and security. With a care home providing a strong community and dedicated care, loneliness need not be a defining aspect of the later stages in life.

If you’re in need of some company over Christmas, enquire about our respite service available at Baycroft Grays Farm Road on 020 8302 2567 or info@baycroft.co.uk.