Social isolation and loneliness in older people.

Social Isolation:

It is not just a temporary issue.

Guild Living has announced a major partnership with the University of Bath, as part of its mission to invest in research into healthy ageing. The global loneliness study will help to better understand older people’s experiences, identify where interventions are needed, support improved health and independence, and reduce social isolation.

Loneliness

Many of us may be experiencing loneliness during the Coronavirus lockdown, or are concerned about loved ones currently socially isolating. Yet loneliness, particularly in later life, can impact many people’s daily lives beyond the current crisis. For some, social isolation is not just a temporary issue – but instead, one that can define their lives.

What is loneliness and how is it different from being alone?

“More than 2 million people in England over aged of 75 live alone and more than 1 million go for over a month without speaking to a friend neighbour or family member.” (Age UK)

Feeling lonely does not necessarily mean that someone has no one around them. The individual may have lots of family and friends, but still, experience feelings of loneliness. They may also live alone but be socially active and interact regularly with others.

So, what is the difference?

When the ability to engage with other people is stopped, a person can begin to feel cut off from society. This prolonged isolation from others can then lead to feelings of loneliness, regardless of whether they live alone or with others.

What can cause loneliness? And why do we become socially isolated?

Loneliness can be triggered by life events such as losing a loved one, leaving a busy workplace or experiencing health issues. But there could also be no clear reason at all, and the feelings can often be unexpected. Loneliness can happen to anyone at any time.

Why is loneliness an issue?

According to Age UK: ‘Persistent loneliness can have a significant negative impact on wellbeing and quality of life’. Loneliness can cause a person to feel emotionally down. This can then have a knock-on effect on their overall wellbeing. An individual may lose their usual energy to do things, become less likely to exercise or go out. This can then cause them to lose their appetite and eat less, stop sleeping as well and, as a result, stop engaging with hobbies such as reading.

Around 1 in 12 older people say they ‘often’ feel lonely. Yet, when experiencing these feelings, they may be less likely to reach out for help affecting their everyday life.

What is Guild Living doing to support older people that feel lonely?

Focusing on six key areas – Guild’s Wellness Foundations – Guild Living will work on the fundamental aspects of health and wellbeing: physical, nutritional, cognitive, and emotional health to support older people to remain healthy and independent.

“We work on all collectively as they are hugely interconnected. When you take one away, the likelihood of increasing your need for extra support goes up and possible impacts on the other aspects. If we can work on one of these areas, the likelihood is that we can improve overall health across the whole wellness foundation.” Chris Bamford, Director of Care at Guild Living.

Guild Living will use its academic findings from the global study into loneliness, in partnership with the University of Bath, to drive decision making around design, technology, wellbeing, and care – to create innovative later living communities.

Mixing younger and older demographics to create intergenerational environments is a vital aspect of Guild Living’s offering to end loneliness. Communities will also all be set in urban environments that will enable active and independent ageing for its members.

“Our research will investigate what interventions we can make to reinstate people’s confidence, tackle one of the biggest killers – loneliness – and shift our culture towards valuing, rather than ostracising, people in their older years.” Professor Malcolm Johnson.

By using an academically led approach, Guild Living will create innovative ways to improve health and independence, whilst significantly reducing loneliness by reinstating older people in the heart of communities across the UK.

What to do if you or someone know are feeling lonely?

Talking is often the best cure. If someone is having these feelings or knows someone who is, reaching out and discussing the issues can often help to relieve feelings of loneliness. If there is not someone close, who it feels appropriate to talk with, there are organisations that offer help:

If your feelings of loneliness are causing persistent low mood, please contact your doctor.