Loneliness is as harmful to elderly as smoking

1 Feb 2018

For many of us, the feeling of loneliness is occasional and short-lived. But unfortunately, for an increasing number of people, this is a persistent and long-term feeling – especially among the elderly.

The likelihood is that we’ll all feel lonely at some point in our lives. For many of us, the feeling will be occasional and short-lived. But unfortunately, for an increasing number of people, this will be a persistent and long-term feeling – especially among the elderly.

Today, loneliness and social isolation are known to affect millions of people across the UK – people of all backgrounds and ages, particularly those in later life. According to Age UK, 3.6 million older people live alone in this country – and 1.9 million feel ignored or invisible.

It’s having a big impact on well-being

This may be quite shocking to hear – but recent research shows loneliness can put us at risk of an early death. In fact, social isolation can be equally as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day – increasing the possibility of premature death by as much as 29%.

This study shows that loneliness can have a huge impact on your life and your well-being, and has the potential to trigger serious mental and physical problems. These include the risk of developing heart disease, a greater risk of strokes, an increase in blood pressure, mental decline, depression and even in some extreme cases, suicide.

In addition, loneliness can increase the chances of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

How can you beat loneliness?

Reduced mobility, living alone and lacking contact with friends and family are among the causes of feeling isolated. Having a heart condition or other serious health problems can also affect the elderly because it can mean you have to give up activities you previously enjoyed.

There are dozens of reasons why people may feel lonely in later life, but the key to beating it lies having regular human contact. It sounds simple, but socialising and connecting with others really can make all the difference to how you feel. And with this in mind, we wanted to share some practical tips that could help anyone feel less lonely.

1. Find a new hobby

You’re never too old to try something new, or you could even take up a hobby that you used to love. Seeing what classes and groups are going on in your local area is a great place to begin – so start scouring the newspapers and noticeboards, and get searching online.

You could also check out the University of the Third Age (U3A). They offer a whole host of activities – from wine tasting to scrabble and history to kitchen gardening in people’s homes, local libraries or community centres.

2. Keep in contact online

If you don’t have friends or family living nearby – or you’re unable to go out to meet them – then technology can help you stay in touch. Programs like Skype enable you to make video and voice calls over the internet, and it’s completely free to use. It means you can see and hear your relatives and friends no matter how far away they are.

3. Eat with others

All over the UK, there are places where you can meet people for a meal or a morning cup of coffee. Your local council, GP or Age UK should be able to help you find out what’s going on in your area – including lunchtime meet-ups and coffee mornings. Transport may even be available to get you from A to B.

If you have limited mobility and find it difficult to leave the house, Meals on Wheels can provide you with a hot meal. In certain cases, you can request that a volunteer stays to talk to you while you eat.

4. Join a book group

Love reading? Then a book club could be right up your street. It isn’t just a good way to meet like-minded people, it’s also a brilliant way to stimulate your brain when you get older.

You could either find an existing book club locally (the library is the best place to ask) or be brave and set up your own group. You could hold a monthly event at your home, and you and your member could take turns to be the host.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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