Call for action as scale of loneliness set to rise by millions

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MORE THAN seven million over 60s will be lonely by the end of the next decade, the charity Friends of the Elderly has warned in a new report.

The charity yesterday launched a call to action - supported by Prime Minister David Cameron - in a bid to encourage people to get to know their elderly neighbours as it revealed that there are 5 million lonely people in the UK - one in 10 - and warned this figure would increase by 40 per cent to over 7 million by 2030.

According to Future of Loneliness report, almost 375,000 over-60s in Yorkshire are lonely.

The East Riding and North Yorkshire have the highest proportions of households containing a lonely 60-plus - one in six, which is higher than the national average.

The charity believes that simple interactions could save thousands of older people from suffering from loneliness, which evidence suggests has wide-ranging and serious health effects, including impacting on dementia and high blood pressure.

Friends of the Elderly chief executive Steve Allen said: “Loneliness and lack of contact have the power to destroy lives.

“But older people don’t wear a badge saying they are lonely. There are ways we can fix this, loneliness is a national issue, a local issue and it’s also a next door issue.

“We want people to offer practical support that people need but are often unable to ask for.”

The charity said the increase in lonely people will be driven by the steep growth in the elderly population, expected from 2017, combined with an increase in the number of over-60s living alone due to the breakdown of relationships.

Technology has a huge potential to make a positive impact on loneliness, the charity said, but it warned that by 2030, more than 700,000 older people would still be ‘off-line’, putting them at “serious risk of intensified exclusion from society,” as more and more everyday tasks are carried out online.

A survey by the charity also found that almost half of Yorkshire and Humber residents, 45 per cent, have ‘irregular’ or ‘no contact’ with older people and more than 35 per cent of not know their neighbours well enough to have a conversation

The report comes as Macmillan Cancer Support warned that loneliness was “particularly toxic” to cancer patients, with patients missing appointments, not taking medication properly or even refusing treatment.

A survey by the charity found patients who feel alone are much more likely to struggle with their treatment plans and do not have the practical support they need.

Charity chief executive Ciaran Devane said it was “simply unacceptable” that so many cancer patients feel emotionally alone, and called on health professionals to make them aware of the support available.

Friends of the Elderly yesterday backed The Yorkshire Post’s loneliness campaign, which too is calling on people to volunteer for community services aimed at tackling the issue.

This week marks six months of the award-winning campaign, which is also calling on local authorities to commit to tackling loneliness in their Health and Wellbeing Strategies.

Mr Allen said: “Most Health and Wellbeing Boards are silent on the concept of loneliness and volunteering - this has to change.”

Jack Neill-Hall, campaigns manager at The Campaign to End Loneliness, partners in The Yorkshire Post’s campaign, said the Be A Friend scheme was “a great example” of what individuals can do to combat loneliness.

“However, we need to continue to put pressure on local authorities and health commissioners to make sure they are funding a broad range of services to help older people,” he added.

Friends of the Elderly want 30,000 people to sign up to its Be a Friend campaign. Visit www.beafriendtoday.org.uk for information.

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