Is loneliness contributing to our nation’s poor health? | Care UK

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Is loneliness contributing to our nation’s poor health?

February 27 2017

The recent announcement that MPs have launched a commission to tackle the ‘silent epidemic’ of loneliness across the UK in honour of the murdered Labour MP Jo Cox has bought this subject firmly back into the spotlight.

The 'Jo Cox Commission' will look for practical solutions to reduce the impact of loneliness on individuals. The Commission is also asking all of us to see if we can do our bit to tackle loneliness – from picking up the phone to arranging a street party.

On the Commission’s website, there’s a statement that Jo Cox once made: “Young or old, loneliness doesn’t discriminate. It is something many of us could easily help with. Looking in on a neighbour, visiting an elderly relative or making that call or visit we’ve been promising to a friend we haven’t seen in a long time.”

The Commission is asking us all to be part of the solution by pledging to start a conversation today. Research has shown that chronic loneliness can increase the likelihood of early death by 25 per cent as well as increasing the risk of dementia, high blood pressure and depression. It’s sad to think that sometimes, people are so utterly lonely that they will go to A&E or a health centre with an apparently trivial ailment just so they can have a chat with someone.

Loneliness can converge with other emotional and physical barriers in later life, such as bereavement, disability, poor health and lack of local transport, making it even harder for people to participate in activities they enjoy and to feel part of their community. In simple terms, being lonely can have the same negative impact on our physical health as smoking 15 cigarettes every day.

The ‘Campaign to End Loneliness’ sets out how being lonely can also affect our mental wellbeing:

  • Loneliness puts individuals at greater risk of cognitive decline

  • One study concluded that lonely people have a 64 per cent increased chance of developing clinical dementia

  • Lonely people are more prone to depression

  • Loneliness and low social interaction are predictive of suicide in older age

We can all play a part in helping reduce loneliness in our communities and families. Here are a few ideas:

  • Think about your own contacts. If there’s someone who you haven’t spoken to for a while, perhaps a friend, neighbour or older relative, why not pick up the phone and have a chat?

  • If you have more time, perhaps see if you can volunteer for a charity that does good work tackling loneliness in your community.

  • Support a charity like Contact the Elderly, which are always looking for people to host tea parties or drive their guests to events.

  • Don’t be afraid to chat to people in the queue at the post office or on the bus – you might be the only person they have a conversation with that day.

It’s not just older people who experience loneliness. A survey revealed that 80 per cent of family carers report feeling lonely and research by the charity Sense found half of disabled people feel lonely on any one given day.

If you find you are suffering from loneliness, please don’t hope it will just go away. Do something before it gets worse. The Campaign to End Loneliness offers some sensible advice including extending invitations to family, friends and neighbours to visit and volunteering in your community.

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