Back to All News

Commissioner's Blog - The Devastation of Loneliness

December 17, 2014

At this time of year, with Christmas just around the corner, many of us will be looking forward to spending time with our friends and family, enjoying all of the joy and laughter that this time of year brings.  

But for many older people, Christmas will be incredibly lonely, a day spent in isolation, a day filled with sadness. And for so many older people, this is what every single day is like, with nothing to do and nothing to look forward to. 

So at this time of year, spare a thought for an older person you know who may be lonely this Christmas – give their door a knock, say hello, or invite them round for a cup of tea or a drink. Little things like these can often make a big difference, can make somebody’s day. 

There are, of course, many organisations working tirelessly across Wales to tackle loneliness and isolation, such as the RVS, whose meals on wheels service provides a chance for an older person to have a conversation with someone as well as a decent meal; Contact the Elderly, who are supporting more volunteers than ever to hold afternoon teas for older people, to allow people who are lonely to get out of the house and spend some time in the company of others; organisations like Age Connects Wales, Age Cymru and many others, who deliver essential befriending services that so many older people rely on; and The Silver Line, which took over 275,000 calls last year from older people who just wanted someone to talk to. The positive impact of services like these is clear: it is estimated, for example, that spending £80 on befriending services could save up to £300 from other budgets by reducing the need for formal, high-level support.  

Without the work of organisations like these, things would be even worse for even more older people, the impact of loneliness upon older people’s health and wellbeing would be even greater. So, at this time of year in particular, it’s important to remember that they need our support – support that, ultimately, could change somebody’s life. 

Even with the excellent work carried out every day by the organisations above, we are reaching a point in Wales where loneliness and isolation among older people is reaching epidemic proportions. This not only  increases pressure on the public purse, but, more importantly, has a devastating impact upon people’s lives, upon their health and wellbeing, equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. 

It is essential that loneliness and isolation is recognised as the key public health issue that it is so that it can be properly addressed. But this will be difficult – you can’t catch loneliness so it doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. And more than that, recognising the scale and impact of loneliness holds an unwanted mirror up to the society in which we live, a society that, it could be argued, has turned its back on some of its most vulnerable citizens. 

Any of us could become lonely and isolated at any time; it’s something beyond our control. And only then will we truly realise how devastating loneliness and isolation can be. That’s why, as Commissioner, I will continue to work to ensure that the change needed to tackle this modern and growing epidemic is delivered, that older people can access the support and services – the lifelines – that they need, so they can be happy, healthy and have the best quality of life.