The Older People’s Task and Finish Group - which makes up part of the Department for Digital Culture, Media and Sport Tackling Loneliness Network2 - is co-chaired by Independent Age and the Alzheimer’s Society.

A briefing paper launched by the group today combines new findings and existing research to shine a light on the feelings of people in later life who were already experiencing chronic loneliness before the pandemic, and the challenges they might face as restrictions ease.

In a survey conducted during the months when the UK went in and out of lockdown3, people over 65, including those who were already accessing support services, were asked about loneliness and isolation:

  • 74% said they lacked companionship and felt left out often or some of the time
  • 82% said they felt isolated from others some of the time, or often
  • Almost 3 in 4 (74%) said they felt lonely at the time of the survey and 9% said they always felt lonely.

When asked how the pandemic had affected them:

  • 72% of respondents said their contact with organisations that they used to interact with before the pandemic had decreased.
  • 73% said that the Coronavirus pandemic has made them feel significantly or somewhat more lonely or isolated than they did before.

Almost 1 in 4 (23%) said they felt the same levels of loneliness as before the pandemic. Given the high numbers reporting feeling lonely and isolated, the group says this relatively large proportion of people suggests that many were already experiencing significant levels of loneliness and isolation before the pandemic began.

“Loneliness is not, and should not be, an inevitable part of getting older, yet some people in later life are facing the compounded impact of loneliness and isolation, causing fear, anxiety, loss of hope and a mental health crisis."

Deborah Alsina MBE, Chief Executive of Independent Age, said:  

“Loneliness is not, and should not be, an inevitable part of getting older, yet some people in later life are facing the compounded impact of loneliness and isolation, causing fear, anxiety, loss of hope and a mental health crisis.

“Despite the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines, uncertain times lie ahead and many are deeply worried about what will happen over the coming months. The resilience of people in later life, and the volunteers and organisations who support them continues to be tested like never before.

“For people who told us loneliness was not just a product of lockdowns and shielding, but a symptom of their everyday life before the pandemic, the easing of restrictions is not a silver bullet. It is vital that the views and needs of people in later life are acted on when it comes to the country’s COVID recovery.

As we emerge from the pandemic, the government must take forward learnings from COVID-19 - prioritise funding of mental health support during the pandemic recovery and beyond, increase the support for those who have been bereaved, and work with others to raise awareness of the seriousness of loneliness and how people can get support.”

Loneliness can be caused by a number of life circumstances, including experiencing bereavement, living on a low income  and having mental or physical health problems.

Nearly one in three who have experienced partner bereavement report being very lonely4. Loneliness caused by grief is likely to soar with latest figures from Independent Age suggesting that up to 307,000 people over 65 have been bereaved of a partner during the last year.

Loneliness, social isolation, and living alone are also all associated with an increased risk of early death.

Fiona Carragher, Director of Research and Influencing at the Alzheimer’s Society, said:

“These figures paint a stark reality for people during the pandemic. For the 120,000 people with dementia living alone, loneliness was present long before the pandemic, but we know since the outbreak, 78% of people affected by dementia we surveyed have felt more lonely and isolated than ever before.

“The extremely damaging side-effects of lockdown - long periods of isolation, a loss of routine and social interaction – have caused significant mental health as well as physical health deterioration for people with dementia, many of them just ‘giving up’ on life, fading away.

“With restrictions now easing, there are things we can all do. Safely visiting a person with dementia really makes a difference even if they don’t seem to recognise you, or remember a visit or the details of a conversation - the positive feelings of love, happiness and comfort are evidenced to have a lasting effect.

“Many people that we’ve spoken to are concerned that their isolation and loneliness will continue as restrictions ease because the support services they used previously have either shut down or are yet to be reinstated. This is why we’re calling for a national rehabilitation strategy as we move out of the pandemic, implemented by a national clinical lead. This will ensure that people who’ve experienced significant deterioration in their condition during Covid-19 have the therapeutic support they need.”

"For me, as we get back to normal, the most important thing isn’t the reopening of shops and pubs, but having someone to talk to once a week. It’s invaluable.

“It broadens my mind, keeps it active. I can share things I enjoy with someone who understands what I’m talking about. It has been wonderful and enriches my life.”

Carol, 73

Real life experience

Carol Jenkinson, 73, from Croydon, has lived alone since 2005 following the death of her brother Cyril.  

Due to health reasons, she hasn’t been able to leave the house for five years, but has support at home, including regular contact with an Independent Age volunteer.

She said: “Cyril and I never married or had children. We lived together until he died in 2005. There was just the two of us and we were very close, we went everywhere together.

“It was a very difficult time when he died, I felt very alone. I carried on shopping but didn’t really go anywhere else. I couldn’t help feeling sad. I’d be doing something and find myself welling up. I’d have a little cry, then move on, until it happened again. I knew Cyril would want me to manage and keep going, but underneath it was very hard. 

“I still miss my brother just as much as ever to be honest. Every so often you crave someone else to talk to, or you have thoughts that you just want to be able to share with someone.

“As my physical health started to deteriorate, I gradually got more support. When Independent Age contacted me and asked if I would like a visitor I said ‘yes.’ I was feeling low.

“The pandemic has meant that some of this support has stopped or changed, including face to face visits and I do miss them. But for me, as we get back to normal, the most important thing isn’t the reopening of shops and pubs, but having someone to talk to once a week. It’s invaluable.

“It broadens my mind, keeps it active. I can share things I enjoy with someone who understands what I’m talking about. It has been wonderful and enriches my life.”

Support

For information and advice on coping with loneliness, speak to one of Independent Age’s advisers on their free and confidential number: 0800 319 6789 or email advice@independentage.org.

Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Connect Support line is available for anyone struggling with loneliness and needs guidance and support, on 0333 150 3456.

- ENDS -

 

Notes to editor

For the full briefing paper, see Independent Age.

Alongside Independent Age and the Alzheimer’s Society, the group is made up of representatives from the English Football League Trust, Historic England, British Red Cross, Age UK, Time to Talk Befriending, Chatty Cafe Scheme, Manchester Museum and the Scottish Older People’s Association.

  1. Chronic loneliness occurs when feelings of loneliness and uncomfortable social isolation go on for a long period of time. It’s characterized by constant and unrelenting feelings of being alone, separated or divided from others, and an inability to connect on a deeper level. It can also be accompanied by deeply rooted feelings of inadequacy, poor self-esteem, and self-loathing.
  2. Emerging Together: the Tackling Loneliness Network Action Plan
  3.  The task and finish group survey ran from October 2020 and closed towards the end of November 2020. We had responses from 595 individuals and an additional 121 responses representing the views of 95 different organisations.

The surveys covered a time period where the country came out of a lockdown and entered into a new one, and was run online.

  1. Good Grief report from Independent Age

Independent Age has launched a bereavement campaign, Time to Grieve, calling for everyone to be able to access emotional support if they need it, following the death of a family member or friend.

For media enquiries please contact

Amy Dodge, Media and PR Manager at Independent Age on 020 7605 6508, amy.dodge@independentage.org

Out of Hours: 07545 209589

About Independent Age

We offer regular friendly contact, a strong campaigning voice and free, impartial advice on the issues that matter to older people: care and support, money and benefits, health and mobility. A charity founded over 150 years ago, we are independent so older people can be too.

For more information, visit our website www.independentage.org.

Arrange to speak to one of our advisers for free and confidential advice and information. Freephone 0800 319 6789 or email advice@independentage.org.

To make a donation or find out more about how you can support the work of Independent Age and help older people stay independent, please visit independentage.org/support-us.

About the Alzheimer’s Society

  • Alzheimer's Society is the UK's leading dementia charity. We provide information and support, fund research, campaign to improve care and create lasting change for people affected by dementia in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • Dementia devastates lives. Alzheimer’s Society research shows that 850,000 people in the UK have a form of dementia.
  • Dementia deaths are rising year on year and 225,000 will develop dementia this year - that’s one every three minutes.
  • The total cost of care for people with dementia in the UK is £34.7billion. This is the equivalent of more than £40,000 per person with dementia.
  • Alzheimer’s Society funds research into the cause, care, cure and prevention of all types of dementia, committing to spend at least £100 million on research over the next decade, and is a founding partner of the UK Dementia Research Institute.
  • Until the day we find a cure, Alzheimer's Society will be here for anyone affected by dementia - wherever they are, whatever they're going through. Everything we do is informed and inspired by them.
  • Let's take on dementia together. Volunteer. Donate. Campaign for change. Whatever you do, unite with us against dementia. 
  • Alzheimer’s Society relies on voluntary donations to continue our vital work. You can donate now by calling 0330 333 0804 or visiting alzheimers.org.uk.  
  • Alzheimer’s Society provides the Dementia Connect support line (0333 150 3456)
  • Follow us on Twitter and Instagram @Alzheimerssoc and Like us on Facebook
  • Alzheimer’s Society YouTube channel www.youtube.com/AlzheimersSociety
  • Download our dementia-friendly guide for tips on best practice to make sure dementia is accurately and fairly reported in the media:  alzheimers.org.uk/mediaguide

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