8 Apr 2015

Ending loneliness: a map that could help target people at risk

Here is a cold, hard fact: about 800,000 people in the UK are lonely. Or, put another way, anywhere between five and 16 per cent of those aged over 65 say they are lonely all or most of the time.

It is a heartrending statistic. And even more heartrending when you hear that the charity, Silver Line, set up by the TV presenter, Esther Rantzen, has had 400,000 calls since November 2013.

Loneliness is endemic and, as Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, once said, an indictment on our society.

But now, the Campaign to End Loneliness with Kent University have produced a report – Hidden Citizens – to look at ways of finding those who are most lonely and isolated.

Read more: Loneliness of elderly people a ‘national shame’

They believe you can create loneliness maps. This is taking data already available to councils such as the age of their citizens, those who lives by themselves, or are in a low income area or do not own a car.

This can be superimposed on a real map and could be used by local authorities and charities to provide services or find those who are not yet lonely but at risk.

And there is a desperate need for it because loneliness and isolation can be bad for a person. Some research says it can be as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, or as harmful as obesity. It can cause depression and increase the risk of dementia if it is chronic enough.

It is hard to tackle, though. Through Silver Line I met Bob Lowe. His beloved wife Kath died four years ago after 65 years of marriage.

He is an ambassador for the charity – a telephone helpline – and he volunteers locally. He has family and friends. But he is lonely.

He misses his wife so much. He describes it as a pain in the heart that can hit at any time. The moments that he draws the curtains, or closes the front door, or sits down to eat are the worst.

He told me that he knows he can pick up the phone and call the family but it is no substitute.

There is a generational point here, too. Like many of his generation, Mr Lowe says he doesn’t want to bother his family – to be a burden.

But a lot of the loneliness, too, is mixed in with the grief he still feels.

​He misses her touch, her smell. Over Easter, he wandered into the garden and suddenly had a waft of hyacinths. – the hyacinths she had planted.

“I lent against the wall of the house,” he told me, “and I wept.”

After she died, he wrote a poem to her entitled Ode to Kath:

For anyone needing help the Silver Line number is 0800 4 70 80 90

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11 reader comments

  1. Harry Knapp says:

    Growing up, my late father was a strict disciplinarian. He had a lot of challenges in his life I’m sure, but you’ll never tell just by looking at him. He was the perfect picture of a man of his generation, men who never confide in family members when they have a problem, instead choose to talk about it with other men like him.

    I lost him to a stroke at the very young age of 52. Knowing how he was, I’m not surprised to read this article and the findings of this study are expected.

    I have a family of my own now, and I’m battling depression in many forms since I was young, and I hope to be a different father than the man who raised me.

    I am still fighting the condition, I’m not sure if there really is a cure for it, but I know for sure I don’t believe in drugs. So I try alternative ways of treatment. Found a few useful insights here http://depressionslaying.com

    I’ve since improved alot, and the attacks don’t come as frequently or as strong, so I’m hoping for the best. Anyone who’s in the same fight, hang in there. There is a chance of breakthrough if you don’t give up.

  2. Naomi Sykes says:

    This article broke my heart – really did. It’s one cause I feel extremely strongly about personally, I hate for anyone – anyone at all, whether in this statistical age range or not – to be lonely.

    My mother suffers from loneliness herself – amongst battling illnesses that stop her from being able to work and have affected her lifestyle and choices, she separated from her husband of 21 years two years ago. She was used to having a small family in her house and now she doesn’t work, own a car or have much company, it has a detrimental effect.

    My heart sinks to my guy when I hear about her or anyone being lonely. We all know how it feels to be lonely but there is that and then there is situation-centered/long-term loneliness, like this case. It is one awful predicament that I would be more than willing to take part in tackling.

  3. Andrew Dundas says:

    Our fastest growing households have only one or two persons. Mostly they’re old folks insisting on living alone. Often in houses that are far too big for us.

    We should use our massive assets to help the poor and younger folks who’re in financial distress. That way we’d get the human contact we crave.

    You like history stories? They tell you one fact: YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU !!

    So, be generous to your grandchildren and children. And your neighbours. Give it away now!

  4. helen@togetherfriends says:

    Really important issue and not just for the elderly. People of all ages can be lonely and struggle to make new friends. Bereavement is obviously a big issue but other life changing experiences such as divorce, retirement, moving to a new town, or caring for someone at home and unable to get out may also have an impact on the amount of social contact that a person has. There are all sorts of reasons why a person may be lonely and they all have to be addressed.

  5. Cat B says:

    It isn’t just the elderly who are lonely. Where do the under 60s go for help?

    Forced to move for health reasons, I am now 70 miles away from friends and family. I pay for a weekly cleaner just to have someone to talk to. I have mobility and energy/stamina problems so getting out can be difficult. If I manage to go out, it makes me depressed to see people around me shopping/working/visiting with friends and colleagues, knowing that I am on my own and only an empty house awaits me. A week will go by without talking to anyone unless I’m well enough to go out to a shop once or twice. I saw no-one at Easter. I will see no-one this weekend.

    I’m sure I’m not the only non-pensioner in this situation.

    1. Helen King says:

      I’m presuming that you are female? I run a friendship website for women in the UK called http://www.togetherfriends.com where women are linked to each other based on age, location and interests. I don’t know where you live, but you might like to take a look at it. It might help you meet new people.

      1. Andrew Dundas says:

        Yes, the loneliness problem IS mostly amongst men.
        However, the majority of elderly singles are women, because women mostly marry men who’re older than themselves, and usually live to an older age.
        And, because of the break-up of multi-generational families, and the much older ages of new mothers these days. It’s modern living!
        Suicides amongst men aged over 40 are four times higher than for women.

  6. Stephen Heard says:

    I chair a national charity (Community Network) that has been working to combat isolation and loneliness for 25 years which not only impacts the elderly but young people as well. We work with Silverline and others like Age UK to provide telephone groups where a group of lonely people will participate in a facilitated call for an hour. Have a look at http://www.communitynetworkprojects.org to see what we do and support us if you can. We are working on celebrating our 25th anniversary later this year and would welcome any help in this. Thanks.

  7. Aimee says:

    Recently, I encountered someone who is lonely and sick. A family member tried to hire someone to help her. At the end of the day, it doesn’t work. Since Lonely people’s mood fluctuates a lot, esp she is not in good health condition. We all need a loving heart to others and people around us, to make the world better. One day, we all get old and lonely!

  8. Anthony says:

    Loneliness is unfortunately such a common problem for the older generation. I’ve been helping my father adapt to mobility issues that have contributed to his loneliness and depression. Fortunately, through – http://www.gloe.uk.com – I was able to find walking sticks and The Silver Line Helpline to help him cope. It’s very important that the elderly feel part of the community, and helping my dad move around more easily and talk to people more easily seems to have helped him.

  9. Grace says:

    I’m a bit late to the comments here but I wanted to add this service from Age UK that currently runs in Worcestershire but will open up to more areas as it grows. Its called Reconnections and focusses on building connections for those in later life in order to reduce loneliness and social isolation. The programme also has a great opportunity to volunteer with them and meet like-minded people. This volunteering programmes may appeal to those who are younger whom also experience loneliness as it enables those to meet others is a similar situation, which together may make getting out into the world, doing activities and meeting other people easier. You can find out more about Reconnections here… http://www.reconnectionsservice.org.uk/find-out-more/

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