Academic journal article Perspectives in Public Health

Loneliness: A Public Health Issue

Academic journal article Perspectives in Public Health

Loneliness: A Public Health Issue

Article excerpt

With nearly one in ten older people suffering from loneliness, isolation and lack of social interaction is now the hidden killer of the elderly

Loneliness amongst older people is an issue often overlooked in the pursuit to ensure the health and wellbeing of older populations and many health services fail to acknowledge it as even a condition. Yet with half of all people aged 75 years and older living alone and with five million admitting that the television is their main company, the issue of loneliness is something that cannot be ignored.

Of course loneliness is not solely an issue for older populations, evidence in fact points to a high prevalence of loneliness amongst adolescents, but they are indeed more vulnerable. Today, families are dispersed (one in five older people see family, friends and neighbours less than once a week) and society has become more segregated; both of which contribute to isolation for individuals. Living in rural and isolated areas and physical impairments also increase loneliness. Whilst there are many social and economic factors which lead to loneliness across all age groups, for older people in particular there are now more barriers preventing them from connecting to their community.

Whilst the emotional problems caused by loneliness seem all too apparent, few realise the physical issues. In July 2010, a study of more than 300,000 people published in PLos Medicine, found a 50% boost in longevity if adults have a solid social network. Researchers even went as far as to suggest that having a social network was just as good for long-term survival as giving up a 15-a-day smoking habit. A lack of social interaction is also linked to the onset of Alzheimer's disease, heart disease and depression.

Failure to tackle the problem of loneliness in older people could thus have huge health implications, and with Alzheimer's costing the NHS an estimated £20billion a year, could be costly.

One campaign group calling for the need to make loneliness a public health concern is Campaign to End Loneliness. This group is funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and was set up by Independent Age, Age UK Oxfordshire, Counsel and Care and WRVS. The aim of this group is to combat loneliness in older age by raising awareness of the issue, promoting what interventions are successful and encouraging individuals to make and maintain connections as they age.

In just over a year Campaign to End Loneliness has established a national movement to alleviate and prevent loneliness in older people. …

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