Today, new research from Age UK shows just how tough life is for hundreds of thousands of older people with care needs who are struggling on without any help.
Fresh analysis finds that if you are an older person in this position, you are almost two-thirds more likely to have been lonely much of the time during the past week compared to those in receipt of at least some care and support.
We already know that there are over a million older people in this country who need care but who don’t receive it from any source. – not from their local council, from neighbours, relatives or friends, or that they purchase for themselves.
Now the Charity has found that over 300,000 of these unfortunate older people are also coping with loneliness much or all of the time.
The worrying results of this new analysis are announced as Age UK hands in a petition to 10 Downing Street calling on the Government to do more to help prevent and tackle loneliness among older people.
Research shows that loneliness not only makes life miserable, it also undermines an older person’s resilience and makes them more susceptible to illness. Combatting loneliness more effectively would not only improve their quality of life, it would also ultimately help reduce demands on the NHS.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said:
“It’s bad enough to be struggling because of a care need and going without any support, but now it turns out that an appreciable number of older people in this position are facing a ‘double whammy’ because they are chronically lonely too.
“We think it is likely that many of these older people are living on their own and in quite isolating circumstances, unable to call on family, friends or neighbours for help if they need it. Frankly, this is no way to spend your days.
“The overriding purpose of social care is to meet a person’s social care needs but, of course, for an older person who can’t get out and about, a friendly chat – however brief – with a visiting care worker is extraordinarily precious if it’s the only conversation you’ll have all day.
“Our social care system is in decline and failing to keep pace with our growing older population, leading to more older people with care needs going without formal help. Now, we can see from our analysis that this is adding to the problem of acute loneliness among older people too.
“These statistics are a challenge to Government policy and they are a wake-up call for the rest of us too: they mean there are a lot of very lonely and isolated older people around us, and we all have a responsibility to do more to help them.”
“Government should fund more local support for lonely older people and restore our crumbling social care system. And to everyone else – please find time for a friendly conversation with your elderly neighbour, phone the great-aunt you haven’t contacted for months, and do also consider volunteering with your local Age UK or another charity that supports older people who are vulnerable and alone.”
Researchers at Age UK have developed a unique new risk index to predict the likelihood of individuals suffering from chronic loneliness. A formula was devised to produce the index and maps showing neighbourhoods where there is greater risk of loneliness among older people[iii].
Nick Sanderson, CEO, Audley Retirement Villages: “Loneliness is a widespread and serious problem across the UK, with negative consequences not only for people’s mental health, but also their physical well-being. If that is then not being addressed due to lack of appropriate care, we have a serious problem that will only escalate.
“The issue must be stopped at source, and that comes through residential housing with flexible care provision, which can have a huge impact in promoting quality of life and reducing feelings of loneliness and isolation. In fact, recent ILC-UK research indicates that people who live in retirement villages experience half the amount of loneliness than those in the community.
“The government needs to focus investment in this respect, and on preventative measures to stop loneliness in older age rather than the treatment of its symptoms. Increasing provision for the development of quality accommodation will not only support the under-resourced care services and struggling NHS, but improve the quality of life for those currently relying on it.”