Loneliness & Isolation
Loneliness and isolation are cross-cutting issues that seriously impact on the health and wellbeing of older people in Wales. Achievements made by each of the Ageing Well in Wales networks will have a positive impact on the loneliness and isolation felt by older people living in Wales. Given the changes to the public services landscape in Wales and the need to see loneliness and isolation recognised as public health issues, Ageing Well in Wales will be dedicating a network to this increasingly important theme.
Loneliness and isolation are not fringe issues; they have been shown to damage health, are the basis for social exclusion and are a significant and pressing problem in Wales that cross all boundaries of social class, race, gender identification, sexual orientation, financial status and geography. Eradicating loneliness and isolation may be unrealistic, but working at all levels, individual, organisational and strategic, identifying and tackling the root causes is not.
Research demonstrates that loneliness has an effect on mortality that is similar in size to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It is associated with poor mental health and conditions such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension and dementia. Loneliness also has a much wider public health impact too, as it is associated with a number of negative health outcomes including mortality, morbidity, depression and suicide as well as health service use.
Given the budgetary reductions to community and public services, often seen as “lifelines”, older people are at an increased risk of loneliness and isolation, sometimes referred to as “silent killers”. More than 75% of women and a third of men over the age of 65 live alone. Without the means to leave their homes, or with fewer visits from community workers and service providers, an increasing number of older people will feel lonely and isolated resulting in damaging effects to their mental health.