SCIE press release

Tackling social isolation and loneliness

16 May 2012

Older people are particularly vulnerable to social isolation and loneliness, owing to loss of friends, family dispersal, mobility or income. A new briefing explains the importance of tackling social isolation and loneliness, particularly among older people.

“Preventing loneliness and social isolation among older people” is an At a glance briefing published by the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE). It is written in collaboration with Contact the Elderlyand is based on SCIE’s earlier review of research evidence on the subject

Social isolation and loneliness have a detrimental effect on health and wellbeing. Studies show that being lonely or isolated can impact on blood pressure, as well as being closely linked to depression.

Among the conclusions in the briefing are:

SCIE’s Director of Adult Services, David Walden, says:

This At a glance briefing uses the best available evidence and real-life case studies to highlight what can be achieved when investment is made in preventative services. Voluntary organisations need to be supported so they can continue to help alleviate loneliness and improve the quality of life of older people. This also helps reduce dependence on more costly services.

The organisation Contact the Elderly have a good example of a social group scheme. The national charity organises free monthly Sunday afternoon tea parties for small groups of older people, aged 75 and above – who live alone without nearby family and friends – in local communities across England, Scotland and Wales.

Contact the Elderly’s Director, Keith Arscott, says:

Our tea parties provide a vital support network for many isolated older people, who due to mobility issues and hearing and visual impairments, cannot leave their home without the assistance provided by the charity’s volunteer network. The benefits extend beyond the one-Sunday-a-month gathering, with the long-term nature of the groups making them an integral part of a guest’s life. Real friendships are formed and volunteers often help older guests with their weekly shopping and transporting them to and from hospital appointments, as well as checking up on their general welfare.

Case study: Restoring confidence and providing friendship

When Maud’s life-long friend Margie died, she fell into a downward spiral of depression. Margie had been like a sister to her: they had lived together for many years and went everywhere together. With no other friends or family to spend time with, Maud was left with an empty void she could not fill. Maud remained isolated in her home for a three-year period. Then Maud spotted an advert for Contact the Elderly and decided to apply to become a guest. She spoke to a staff member who explained how the tea parties worked and he arranged for a volunteer to pick Maud up for her first tea party a couple of weeks later. Maud was nervous about attending the first tea party and was unsure about leaving her home. But she found the courage to go; the group setting has enabled her to widen her social circle and form new friendships. Maud adds: “It’s changed my life. I feel like I have a whole new set of friends to talk to. It’s wonderful.”

Isolation – the extent of the problem

It is estimated that among those aged over 65, between five and 16 per cent report loneliness and 12 per cent feel isolated. These figures are likely to expand as the number of people, aged more than 80, is expected to treble in the next 20 years, while those over 90 will double. This, combined with increasing family dispersal, indicates that the issue of loneliness and social isolation in old age is set to escalate.

Media contact

Steve Palmer | Press and Public Affairs Manager | Tel: 020 7766 7419 | Mob: 07739 458 192 | Email: media@scie.org.uk