Such is Britain’s concern about social isolation, the UK now has a Minister for Loneliness, after the Jo Cox Loneliness Commission saw 13 organisations come together to highlight the scale of loneliness throughout the life cycle and across all areas of society. It called for a dedicated minister to tackle the problem of loneliness, which it described “as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day”.
It’s not just a problem for the Brits. According to a study published by the University of Otago and funded by the Government’s Ageing Well National Science Challenge, one in five older New Zealanders is lonely.
The Ageing Well Challenge tell us that approximately 10 per cent of people over the age of 65 are lonely all or most of the time, with rates rising to 50 per cent amongst those over 80. Loneliness has a negative impact on the health of older people and may even lead to premature deaths for the loneliest. Loneliness can worsen many health conditions, including pain depression, anxiety and respiratory conditions.
Age Concern is also collaborating on the Ageing Well project to look at how their Accredited Visiting Service can better meet the needs of New Zealand’s multi-cultural population. The study is expected to conclude at the end of this year.
The Accredited Visiting Service provides regular visits to older people who would like more company. Volunteers meet with an older person for about an hour each week to enjoy conversation and shared interests and activities.
Joe Rodrigues, aged 97, believes that preventative measures like this are the key to combatting loneliness. He has a number of suggestions.
“Being contacted each morning by phone by someone they know, can help set people up for the day.”
A firm believer in the benefits of singing for older people, Rodrigues also suggests that loneliness could be mitigated for older people if they had easy access to ‘singalongs for seniors’ sessions where they could enjoy singing songs they know well and make new friends.
“Producing half-hour singalong programmes on TV, on a daily basis, complete with captions, would also be something for them to look forward to.”
“For those who are computer savvy there is a huge reservoir of material available on Youtube.
Rodrigues believes people should be encouraged to realise they can help others.
“Every older person has something valuable to share from their lifetime of experience.”