Loneliness in old age, the unspoken killer
Did you know that loneliness accounts for 15% of early deaths among the elderly, more than obesity, lack of exercise or smoking 15 cigarettes per day?
There are two key types of loneliness, social loneliness; the fact that they want more social interaction than they currently have, or emotional loneliness, they miss one special person, usually a spouse, child, or best friend. For some people, loneliness is constant, for others it is often at weekends or over holiday periods. It is shocking to read that over one million people can go a whole month without speaking to anyone, and that over half the ‘over 75’s’ say that the television is their main source of company.
Due to our increasingly ageing population, and with local budgets for the elderly being under threat of cut or closure, this figure is set to rise. With loneliness significantly contributing to increased cases of mental health, and depression, the government is encouraging us to get involved in looking after the more vulnerable in our community through ‘Befriending’ schemes, and involvement in the 24 hour Silver Service telephone line. We can also learn from other cultures, particularly Asian, where it is not uncommon for three generations to live together under one roof, they are horrified at our apparent lack of care and respect for our elders.
For some, loneliness is constant, with one million people going a whole month without speaking to anyone
Even if family or friends are close by, the pace at which we lead our lives, means we have little time for others, so even when we do help, we make the elderly feel a burden on our precious time. I overheard an elderly lady say recently, that whilst she was grateful that her daughter took her out regularly, she never completed her shopping as her daughter was always on a tight time schedule. The daughter, had a job, children and a home to run, so she wasn’t able to give the time her mother really needed. Another elderly person waited over six months till someone could take her out to buy new wellington boots. It’s simple things that are needed, like changing a light bulb, or resetting the clocks once the clocks have gone forward or back.
So often, family or friends get the essential jobs done, but don’t have time for a chat over a cuppa. We must remember that the elderly were young once, and many have led exciting lives often abroad or have compelling stories of their time in the military; we should encourage them to reminisce.
Companionship is fundamental, like food and water, without which we simply cannot live.
The NHS have some useful information on loneliness in the Elderly, click here for more information.
The BBC have published an article on beating the curse of old age, again, just click on the link to read the article.