Loneliness in Old Age: A Looming Crisis? (Infographic)

February 16, 2018

What is Loneliness?

When we talk about loneliness, we’re often actually talking about social isolation. These are two separate but interconnected phenomena that impact old people particularly:

Social isolation describes a lack of social contact, for instance not seeing friends and family for a long time.

Loneliness refers to the subjective feelings experienced by an individual who isn’t getting as much social contact as they’d like.

This means that a person can be lonely without actually being socially isolated. For instance, an older person might see their children, friends and family regularly, but still deeply miss a partner who has passed away and therefore feel very lonely when they’re home alone.

On the other hand, a person may be socially isolated but content with the status quo, and therefore not lonely. However, social isolation does frequently result in loneliness and this is often the case in old age.

What Causes Loneliness in Old Age?

Old age brings with it many big changes and lifestyle adjustments, many of them positive – you don’t have to go to work anymore for one! Unfortunately, some of these changes also leave older people vulnerable to social isolation and feelings of loneliness. For example:

  • Bereavement – the loss of a partner particularly can deeply affect older people and result in chronic loneliness.
  • Retirement – retired people can find that they miss seeing their co-workers every day and that they end up spending too much time alone at home.
  • long-arrow-right
    Living alone – 38% of those aged 75-84, and 59% of people aged over 85 live alone. For some, this is a great way to remain independent but for others it can leave them feeling isolated from their community.
  • Poor health – loss of mobility and other health problems can mean it’s tough to get out and about.

How Loneliness Affects Health  

Loneliness can have startling, detrimental impacts on health and happiness. Studies have suggested it’s deadlier than obesity and some go as far to predict a future public health crisis due to rising levels of loneliness across the Western world. 

For older people who may be more susceptible to health problems already, this can be particularly dangerous.  Loneliness increases the risk of a number of physical and mental health conditions, including:

  • Coronary heart disease
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Depression
  • Onset of disability
  • Cognitive decline
  • Diabetes
  • Falls
  • Dementia

  • How to Beat Loneliness in Old Age

    Luckily, loneliness doesn’t have to be a permanent state. Whether you’re lonely yourself, or you want some advice on how to help a loved one feel less lonely, take a look at our infographic below.

    It shows some of the key statistics surrounding loneliness in the elderly, explains more about how loneliness affects health, and finally, we share our top tips on how to overcome loneliness in old age...