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Older person - Older person

Chronic loneliness for people in later life set to continue long after COVID-19

A review by ten leading charities, including ACO member Independent Age, has found that some people over 65 are likely to remain at risk of chronic loneliness1, despite the easing of Coronavirus restrictions.

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 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 lockdown 3, 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.

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.

Source: Independent Age