If you’re constantly surrounded by friends and family, then the chances are you long for a bit of ‘me’ time. Sadly though, many thousands of elderly people in the UK suffer from what is an entirely different problem – that of loneliness. Figures show that 3.5 million people aged over 65 live alone, and around 1 in 3 are suffering the misery of loneliness.
The effects of being lonely and isolated can be devastating. Research shows that those who are lonely are at massively increased risk of psychological and physical health problems. Described as a ‘hidden killer,’ the health risks associated with social isolation have even been equalled to the effects of smoking 20 cigarettes per day. Yet neither is it only older people who are affected; the problem is impacting more of us than ever before as families break up, people become more transient, and communities break down.
So what can we do about the problem? With so many people struggling with loneliness, the first step is to remember you are not alone. If you’re suffering from loneliness yourself, then it’s important to try and reach out. If you’re able to leave the house, then joining clubs or groups, visiting church or doing volunteer work can help you meet new people. If you’re housebound, then try contacting Age UK for advice about befriending schemes in your area. You might even consider a pet to alleviate feelings of loneliness. If someone you know is lonely, then make the effort to call on them. Even a once a week visit can make the world of difference.