We all know some of the challenges of old age, but one less spoken about is loneliness and isolation. We will all have felt lonely at some point in our lives bit for most of us this feeling is only fleeting, we can call our family or friends, we will see and speak to people the following day, we have a social support network that we can rely upon. However, for some people this feeling of loneliness can be with them almost every day, and many believe they are destined to feel this way for the rest of their lives.
A recent study by the British Red Cross suggests that over 9m people in the UK, more than the population of London, are either always or often lonely. This affects people of all ages, but is more prevalent amongst older people, people with disabilities or dementia, carers and single parents. Polling by Age UK and Independent Age revealed that 3.6 million people aged over 65 stated that the television is their main form of company, and a third of people over 75 feel that their loneliness is out of their control.
Studies also suggest that loneliness could be costing the country £32 billion pounds a year due to the added pressures it places on health and social care services. Evidence shows that for older people loneliness can cause depression, anxiety and low self-esteem, with depression and isolation also shown to progress the onset and speed with which dementia develops. Many lonely people do not take proper care of themselves as they don’t see the point in making an effort when they rarely see or speak to anybody. This leads to longer stays in hospital and more pressure on community care services.
I recently attended the Chesterfield & North Derbyshire Volunteer Centre’s AGM and heard about the success of their ‘Elderfriends’ service, a befriending service aimed at lonely and socially isolated people throughout Chesterfield and North Derbyshire. These volunteers may just pop round for a cup of tea and a chat, or help with shopping or call up to see how the person is, but it can have a huge effect on the lives, happiness and health of people at risk of loneliness. You can find out more about the service and join as a volunteer by calling the Centre on 01246 276 777.
Before Jo Cox, MP for Batley & Spen, was murdered last year, she was in the process of creating a cross-party campaign to address the silent epidemic of loneliness. Jo was heartbroken by the loneliness she saw in others and the impact this had on their lives. She was committed to tackling this problem and now friends, family, MPs and charities have formed a ‘Commission on Loneliness’ in her name, which aims to continue Jo’s legacy by ridding society of loneliness “one conversation at a time”.
The new campaign is asking people to make a pledge to help tackle loneliness. Jo Cox said “young or old, loneliness doesn’t discriminate…it is something many of us could easily help with. Looking in on a neighbour, visiting an elderly relative or making that call or visit we’ve been promising to a friend we haven’t seen in a long time.” So I’m asking all of my constituents to join the campaign and make a pledge to start a conversation today. If all of us take a few minutes every day to speak to people at risk of loneliness, we may be able to improve their lives and our communities.
You can find out more about the campaign and make a pledge at www.jocoxloneliness.org