Loneliness has a severe impact on an older person's quality of life and leads to illnesses such as depression and a deterioration of cognitive ability. It is said that loneliness and isolation have a greater effect on mortality than other risk factors such as obesity, and are just as bad for your health as smoking.
Figures from Age UK have previously revealed that more than two million people in England over the age of 75 live alone, and more than a million older people go for over a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour or family member.
The Campaign to End Loneliness - a fantastic national initiative - aims to reduce loneliness in older age by creating the right policy and funding conditions for groups and individuals working to tackle this issue.
But what can care sector professionals do to address this silent crisis?
While loneliness and isolation are not one and the same, tackling physical isolation - through initiatives such as befriending schemes - has proven to be one of the most effective ways of combating loneliness; with initiatives that promote intergenerational contact having the largest positive effect.
Whether you work in or regularly visit a care home, or care for an older person in their own home, the opportunities available for the care sector to take action on loneliness are increasing as more and more people are finding initiatives which complement their interests.
Below are examples of a few schemes that have been a success, which we hope will inspire you in your attempts to tackle loneliness for those in your care.
Cooking Clubs: Both younger and older people can benefit from intergenerational cooking classes, with the opportunity to share new recipes on a frequent basis. It is a great way to learn new skills, try new foods and make lasting friendships.
Pet Therapy Programmes: These initiatives enable volunteers to take their pets, or pets from local shelters, to homes to interact with older residents. This has proven particularly effective for those living with dementia.
Dance Classes: Volunteers who are interested in dance can run light exercise and dance classes with older people. People who have run dance classes aimed at older people in the past have gone on to showcase their dances at local arts festivals. It has been proven to boost the confidence of older people, as well as providing a creative outlet for those running the programmes.
Teach an older person how to use a computer: This initiative has an important impact beyond simple interaction as it builds confidence through learning new skills and opens up new possibilities for communication through the web.
The home sharing initiative: For older people who receive care at home, this is a new trend which aims to tackle two social problems; the lack of affordable housing and loneliness amongst older people. Online services are available to match young people who can't afford housing, with older people who have spare rooms. The young person promises 10 hours of companionship and help around the house during the week.