09/07/2012 14:53 BST | Updated 09/07/2012 14:56 BST

OAP Loneliness Is Growing Health Problem (How To Beat It - PICTURES)

Loneliness among older people is becoming a major health problem, experts report today.

More than 700,000 of elderly Brits feel lonely and isolated according to Age UK, and the charity is holding aninternational conference today in Oxford to discuss the issue.

According to Paul Burstow, care services minister, loneliness among the elderly is a growing health concern for Britain.

"Lack of day-to-day contact can have a huge impact on their health,” Burstow said in a statement. “Loneliness is one of society’s unspoken tragedies. We all have elderly neighbours or relatives who live on their own."

According to statistics released by Age UK, in the UK, half of older people aged 75 and over live alone. And over five million consider the television their main form of company.

Sadly, only 46% of over-65s spend time with their family regularly – 12% admit that they never see their relatives. In 2006, over 500,000 older people spent Christmas Day alone.

elderly loneliness

Nearly a quarter of elderly Brits admit that they feel “out of touch” with the pace of modern life, 9% claim to feel “cut off by society”.

According to the Daily Mail, the number of people aged 60 or over hit 14 million for the first time last year and is expected to rise to 20 million by 2031.

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“Disability, illness, problems with finances and lack of access to transport often mean older people feel cut off from their family, friends and local community,” says Michelle Mitchell from Age UK.

“With the on-going crisis in provision of social care, older people are missing out on essential care that could be the difference between staying active and staying isolated.”

David McCullough, from the age positive charity WRVS, which runs a volunteering service for lonely people, has experienced how stark the loneliness problem is first hand.

He told the BBC: "We deal with a frail, elderly population who suffer from infirmity and loss of mobility.

"When I go on meals on wheels runs it bring it home to me. There are all these people waiting at the door for us, for a visit by another human being. It's the social high point of their day."

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Researchers from the University of California claim that loneliness shortens your lifespan by triggering functional decline in day-to-day activities.

"Loneliness is a common source of suffering in older persons. We demonstrate that it is also a risk factor for poor health outcomes including death and multiple measures of functional decline,” Carla Perissinotto from the study said in a statement.

A separate US study in the same journal found a link between living alone and an increased risk of death from heart disease among people at risk of blood clots.

The international conference 'What do we know about loneliness?' will urge ministers to do more to tackle the loneliness problem.

“The Government is working with the Campaign to End Loneliness to raise awareness about just how important even a simple phone call or visit can be to someone’s health. That’s why we’ll be working in partnership with the voluntary sector, businesses, local communities and others to make a difference,” Burstow said in a statement.

Do you feel lonely? Take a look at these cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) tips on how to beat loneliness, with cognitive hypnotherapist Lesley McCall.

Beat Loneliness