Tackling isolation and loneliness

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As we age, the importance of social connection and companionship becomes increasingly evident for our overall wellbeing. According to Age UK, an estimated 1.4 million older adults in the UK experience feelings of loneliness. The impact of this isolation can have profound effects on both the mental and physical health of those affected.

Here at St John’s, we are passionate about ensuring the ageing process is a positive one for all, and part of our focus is to provide opportunities for older adults to remain active and independent while reducing feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Impact of isolation

Older adults might face isolation for various reasons, including the loss of a loved-one, retirement, physical limitations that restrict mobility, or distance from family members. Whatever the reason, all these circumstances can result in social circles shrinking, leading to a reduced number of interactions and engagements.

Isolation can be exacerbated by societal changes too, such as the increasing reliance on technology for communication and the ever-evolving nature of this technology, to which it might be challenging for older adults to adapt. Ageism and stereotyping can also contribute to the exclusion of older adults from social activities and marginalisation within communities.

The mental toll of loneliness should not be underestimated. Studies have linked loneliness in older adults to various health issues, including depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, cognitive decline, and a weakened immune system. Feelings of isolation can lead to a sense of loss of purpose or a lack of motivation, diminishing the overall quality of life.

Isolation and loneliness are especially common during the winter months. Age UK found that around 1 in 20 older adults spend Christmas alone without speaking to anyone  This shocking statistic has been worsened by the rising cost of living, which is forcing pensioners to lead a more solitary life to save money. The study found that one in four older people cite money worries as a reason for cutting back on social activities, which can stop them from travelling for or participating in activities and events.

The Good Living Service

Isolation and loneliness is often associated with physical separation from social networks or communities. This is why St John’s introduced the Good Living advice service. This service is available to people over 55 in the Bath and North East Somerset area and it offers a wide range of social activities, befriending initiatives, community and support groups, social skills training, education seminars and volunteering programmes. Older adults in the local area can regain independence and use the service to add structure to their days, whilst meeting new people and building new relationships.

In addition to the Good Living Service, Age UK recognises how crucial friendships and meaningful connections are to overall wellbeing, and the local branch offers a befriending service to the community. The service provides community connections for older people in BaNES with regular phone calls and visits. The initiative has brought members of our community together and sparked many new friendships.

The benefits of almshouses

Our almshouses are an important part of our offering at St John’s, and they address a number of societal issues. The communities within our almshouses are friendly and vibrant, and residents are empowered to live independently, with company and support always on hand if needed. Many residents have built close friendships and one of the most significant advantages of living in an almshouse is the community of like-minded individuals who share similar life experiences. This access to a supportive community can reduce the risk of adverse health effects linked to loneliness, depression and poor mental health.

In fact, a recent study by Baynes Business School found that those who live in almshouses may live up to 2 and a half years longer, emphasising the positive impact of belonging to a community and its way of creating a greater sense of purpose.

With adults aged 60 and over now representing the fastest-growing portion of our population, the importance of combatting social isolation and loneliness felt by older adults cannot be overstated.

By acknowledging the challenges and implementing initiatives to promote social connections and improved wellbeing, we can build inclusive environments that enrich the lives of older members of our communities.

We, alongside other charities and organisations, are privileged to be able to provide solutions in the local area.