Liz Blackham, Queen’s Nurse and IAH Trustee - Loneliness

We as human beings are living longer, and the prevalence of loneliness and isolation among the elderly increases. Is it inevitable?
We are a supposedly civilised society, yet many of our elderly live with virtually no communication with others for weeks on end. We assume they have contact with someone- don’t they?
At present 1 in 3 people over the age of 65 live alone in the UK. Statistics say this is set to increase by more than 50% in the next 25years. While some older adults choose to live alone, others may have no choice.
Loneliness increases the likelihood of mortality by 26%. Research shows that loneliness and social isolation are harmful to our health: lacking social connections is comparable risk factor for early death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and is worse for us than well known risk factors such as obesity and physical inactivity.

Loneliness and low social interaction are predictive of suicide in older age and research states loneliness puts individuals at greater risk of cognitive decline and one study found lonely people have a 64% increased chance of developing clinical depression.

Statistics underline the fact that older people living alone have poorer health than those living with others, as well as more intensive health care needs with the number of older people living alone set to continue to grow; more needs to be done to help people stay healthy and offer more support and care in the community.
Recently the Prime Minister launched the government’s first strategy on loneliness. The Strategy sets out a vision for a more connected society and the need for strong social relationships.
So what can we do? We can explore loneliness as part of our assessments in our professional capacity; we can educate ourselves, society, our peers & families of the relationship between loneliness and mortality. We can also take time every day to smile, say hello and strike up a conversation with people on the train, bus stop, shop or in the street.
As told in “The Starfish Story” There was a beach covered with hundreds if not thousands of starfish and a young boy was picking up and gently throwing starfish back in the ocean. A passer-by remarked to the boy “do you realise there are miles and miles of beach and thousands of starfish? You can’t make any difference” to which the boy picked up another starfish and gently threw it into the ocean and then smiling said “I made a difference to that one”.
Can you make a difference to one today???
Loneliness inevitable? - Hopefully not.