LONELINESS is among the biggest concerns facing the country’s ageing population, it has been revealed, as a charity warned that local authorities must act to stop the scourge of social isolation.
A survey by older people’s charity Independent Age showed that a third of people polled were concerned about someone aged over 65. Almost half of these, 46 per cent, said loneliness and isolation was the greatest concern.
The Yorkshire Post launched its Loneliness: The Hidden Epidemic campaign last February after revealing how it takes a toll on 91,300 older people in our region
It has two main aims, for loneliness to be universally recognised as a priority by the region’s Health and Well Being Boards, the bodies ran by local councils to devise health strategy, and to encourage people to volunteer for support services.
Independent Age’s director of policy and external relations, Simon Bottery, said local authorities were best placed to tackle the “complicated issue” of loneliness.
“Local authorities, because they have responsibility for public health, but also social care, transport, housing and the likes, are far better placed to deal with the issue,” he said. “They should be putting tackling loneliness into their overall public health plans.”
If a person lives alone, the greatest concern of their friends and relatives is that they will feel lonely and isolated.
“Companionship and contact is a basic human need and many people are worried about the possibility they won’t have that when they are older,” Mr Bottery added.
Laura Alcock-Ferguson, director of the Campaign to End Loneliness, said: “Loneliness is a major concern for those approaching older age and it should be a priority for health decision makers - loneliness and isolation is as harmful to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. This report shows that people in later life are already thinking about how to stay connected and the consequences if they don’t. Changes in later life mean that those over 65 can be more at risk of isolation and therefore feeling alone.”
She said it is “vitally important” that groups, charities, local councils and businesses work to help people at any age overcome their loneliness.
“More needs to be done to make sure there are no gaps in these services and enablers particularly at this time of austerity when decisions and removing services are being made,” she added.
The survey also showed the ageing population is seen to be one of the top three challenges facing British society over the next 20 years, falling just behind healthcare and immigration - something Independent Age says will “only continue to grow”.
Chief executive Janet Morrison said: “These findings suggest that as a nation there is a need to form a coherent approach to ageing and older age to ensure it is not experienced with fear, but positivity and optimism.”