Age UK states that there are 3.6 million older people in the UK living alone, of which 2 million are aged 75+. This group is particularly vulnerable to social isolation – which can cause feelings of loneliness, as well as impact physical and mental health.  Here, we explore how an ageing population may affect social isolation, what effects it can have on those suffering, and how social care may help to combat this for the elderly.

Is the population ageing?

Yes, it is. According to a recent article in The Telegraph that examined new ONS data, “the number of over 85s in the UK is set to double within the next 25 years”. This has “prompted concern from elderly care charities and campaigners who fear than an ageing population is set to deepen an ever-worsening social care crisis”. With the number of elderly people in the UK rising year on year, it’s not particularly surprising that many are facing social isolation. In fact, the article states that “one in three over-65s live alone, and one in ten have no children” meaning they have very little interaction with people on a daily or even weekly basis.

So, what is social isolation?

Social isolation is a near or complete lack of connection between a person and the society they live in. It is common for people to mistake social isolation with loneliness – but these are in fact two very different things. Social isolation is based on the physical number of contacts a person has with others. Whereas loneliness is a feeling that occurs when a person is not getting their desired amount of interaction with others – which can differ depending on the individual.

What effects can social isolation have?

Naturally, people are drawn to others. We rely on social connection to survive, and experience emotional satisfaction from regular contact with others. Social connection is hugely important for both our physical and mental health. According to Age UK, being isolated and feeling alone “can be as harmful for our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day”. Loneliness is linked with “depression, sleep problems, impaired cognitive health, heightened vascular resistance, hypertension, psychological stress and mental health problems”. And, their figures state that 1.9 million older people often feel ignored or invisible. That’s a shocking amount of people suffering from loneliness and/or social isolation. So, what can be done to increase social interaction for the elderly?

How social care can decrease social isolation

The key to decreasing social isolation is simply to increase the number of contacts a person has. As people get older, the chance they live alone increases. This may be because their partner has passed away, and their own children now live with their partner and/or children.  By introducing elderly people into a care home environment, they can become part of a community, where they can connect with other people in a similar situation as well as the care staff. Providing regular tasks and jobs for them to complete may help to give them a sense of purpose, as well as regular groups or clubs that they can attend. Something as simple as eating meals together in a group will help to increase the number of interactions a person has.

Care homes should also look to increase interactions in the community outside of the care home, by taking residents to local shops, medical appointments or for other days out. There are many companies such as Allied Fleet that provide vehicles tailored for care home use that will help those operating care homes to take elderly residents out and about – experiencing the interactions that they need.

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