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Loneliness and social isolation is a recognised public health issue. It is associated with harm to mental and physical health, as well as having broader social, financial and community implications.

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Background

Whilst loneliness and social isolation is a problem across all age groups, it is a significant and growing issue for older people. It is estimated that approximately 25% of the population will be aged 60+ within the next 20-40 years.

Almost half of adults in England say they experience loneliness. On average, 10% of the population aged 65+ are often or always lonely. The reasons for this are complex, to do with changing family relationships, people living at greater distances from their relatives, and often an altogether less strong desire to be the mainstay of frail older relatives.

Loneliness and social isolation harm physical and mental health by increasing the risk of depression, high blood pressure, sleep problems, reduced immunity and dementia[i]. It has a greater impact than other risk factors such as physical inactivity and obesity. A recent study found that loneliness and social isolation has an equivalent risk factor for early mortality to smoking 15 cigarettes per day[ii].

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References

[i] Whisman, M. et al. 2010. Loneliness and the metabolic syndrome in a population-based sample of middle-aged and older adults. Health Psychology. Vol.29, No.5, pp 550-4

[ii] Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Layton JB (2010) Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review. PLoS Med 7(7): e1000316. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000316