Elderly in grip of 'loneliness epidemic'
Older people are in the grip of a “loneliness epidemic”, spending 100 days a year without human contact, according to research published today.
More than 66 million hours are spent alone by people aged over 65 in Britain each day, equivalent to each person over 65 spending more than 100 days alone each year, the study found.
The survey, conducted for the Associated Retirement Community Operators (Arco), found that a quarter of over-65s (24 per cent) feel lonely some or most of the time and almost one in five (18 per cent) of over-75s sometimes go a full weekend without seeing and speaking to another person.
Isolation, always more of a problem in winter, has been exacerbated in recent months, with many already remote communities in the South West cut off by flooding. Last year, more than half of older people said that they considered television to be their main form of company.
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Rural areas are hardest hit, with soaring bills and rising property prices, but fewer jobs, forcing young families into cities, leaving older relatives often without day-to-day care or even over a longer term, as rising working hours leave less time for visits, with 400,000 estimated by the WRVS to have spent last Christmas alone.
Today’s survey of 1,030 over-65s found that they spend an average of 6.4 waking hours alone each day. Across the 10.4 million people over 65 in the UK, it equates to more than 66 million hours each day.
Age UK says that loneliness is a massive issue for people in later life in the UK. Half of all people aged 75 and over live alone, and 1 in ten people aged 65 or over, say they are always or often feel lonely.
The effects of loneliness are profound for mental and physical health. Two studies late last year, by the University of California and University College London, showed that loneliness cause a 10 per cent increase in deaths, as limited exercise and poorer health takes effect.
When people were asked what worried them most about getting older, poor health (32 per cent) came out top, while having to leave the family home most concerned just four per cent of respondents.
However, almost three quarters (72 per cent) have not made any changes to the way they live, or made any preparations for their changing housing needs.
Arco chairman Jon Gooding said: “We are in the grip of a loneliness epidemic. People are fearful of their declining health, and yet appear to be unprepared for old age.
“Couple this with the fact that in 2033 there will be 3.3 million people over the age of 85 in the UK and it becomes clear that we face a momentous challenge.
“The emergence of this brand new generation, who want more and expect more from their retirement, calls for a entirely different approach to housing and care.
“We need to wake up as a country and ensure that people are aware of, and have access to, a variety of options for high quality housing, care and support in old age.
“Now is the time for the Government to support growth in the housing with care sector, helping older people make the right move at the right time, having access to the support they need whilst maintaining their right to their own front door.”