Can Loneliness Amongst the Aged Be Helped?

One-third of older adults over the age of 60, will experience loneliness – and it is a big problem.  Aoife Mulcahy, Head of Clinical & Safety at Elder, explains why it’s important to recognise and tackle this growing issue:

It can’t be emphasised enough how serious the issue of loneliness is because studies show feelings of loneliness exacerbate risky habits such as smoking and poor diet, irritating vulnerabilities in health and leading to disabilities.

To make matters worse, loneliness in the elderly has been associated with cognitive decline, longer hospital stays and lower resistance to infections. Meaning loneliness not only costs our NHS and local authorities huge amounts every year, but takes a huge toll on human health and quality of life.

Attempts to reduce loneliness tend to revolve around stopping social isolation by encouraging the lonely person to seek one to one support, try volunteering, visit support groups and seeking companionship from a pet.

But because loneliness comes with a stigma, putting the onus on the individual to take the initiative, surprisingly isn’t effective. While government and charity attempts at social inclusion tend to include transport to day-centres, home-delivered meals to improve the quality of involvement in the community or appointing a loneliness minister.

Regardless, the reality is that the loneliness plague is continuing to grow and older people who live alone are at a higher risk of loneliness and a decline in health due to such isolation.

Because of this, the most sought after choice for ageing adults who live alone and have care needs, is to opt for nursing home or residential placement. These options may not always be available to them as a result of eligibility, funding and availability in their local communities.

Perhaps, a more realistic option for local authorities and people who live alone and require a lot of assistance with activities of daily living is live-in care. This type of intervention alleviates social isolation and reduces the demand for residential and sheltered accommodation.

The option of live-in care can also be seen as a health promotion tool whereby constant care given in the home can be measured against the unmet need for community care. While live in care seems to be the better care alternative as opposed to hourly.

Aoife Mulcahy is Head of Clinical & Safety at technology-enabled care provider, Elder.