It’s good to talk

The health risks associated with being alone, such as depression and Alzheimer’s, are serious and must be tackled head-on

Loneliness is bad for your health. Researchers from across 150 separate studies have shown that loneliness is as good an indicator of early mortality as lifelong smoking or obesity.

An extensive study by academics in the US has shown a link between loneliness and Alzheimer’s disease – the risk of developing Alzheimer’s can be up to twice as high if you are lonely – and there are also clear links in numerous studies with depression, and even heart disease.

With so much negative impact on our health, something must be done about loneliness. Ideally, it must be prevented before it even begins.

The Campaign to End Loneliness is a coalition of organisations and individuals working to combat loneliness and inspire individuals to keep connected in older age. It is led by five organisations: Age UK Oxfordshire, Independent Age, Manchester City Council, Sense and WRVS.

With nearly 50 per cent of older people feeling sometimes or always lonely, we need to start with those things that trigger and lead to loneliness: personal and factors in wider society.

Loneliness is much harder to shake off in older age for a number of reasons. It might be more difficult to get out and about because our mobility reduces or because we can no longer drive. Personal changes, such as moving house, bereavement, hearing loss or poor health can also lead to loneliness.

Society, too, places restrictions on people’s ability to get out and about with rising costs of travel or even in the way local town centres are designed which can prevent people from coming together. If we start with these ‘triggers’, we can work back to combat loneliness.

We have started with Loneliness Harms Health, a community level initiative to ensure that the health impacts of loneliness are understood better by those making decisions about our health system and spending. It has started in Essex and Cornwall and will go national in October.

We have also been working to support health and care officials to better understand the health implications of loneliness, and what can be done to prevent it. Funded by the Department of Health, in July we launched a ‘toolkit’ to help assess the need in an area and set out strategic methods of tackling loneliness.

There are a number of ways to help prevent and alleviate loneliness in older age. You can become a supporter of the campaign and express an interest in starting a Loneliness Harms Health campaign in October.

If you want to act now, you can contact your local council and let them know you care about the issue of loneliness in older age, and champion our toolkit. Or you could volunteer with one of the many organisations we work with.