We need to talk about loneliness.
Loneliness and social isolation can affect us at any age, but older people are one of the groups who are most at risk. A recent Local Government Association guide estimated that over one million people aged over 65 are often or always lonely, while the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) found that almost half of people aged 70 or over were sometimes or always lonely.
A report from the Office of National Statistics found that in England and Wales, more than half of all people aged 75 and over live alone. In 2000 a study reported that 17% of older people in the UK are in contact with family, friends and neighbours less than once a week and 11% are in contact less than once a month.
There is strong evidence that social isolation and loneliness have major negative effects on health and wellbeing, comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes per day. Loneliness is also an important risk factor for depression.
Loneliness and social isolation are not the same thing: loneliness is a subjective feeling, whereas isolation is an objective lack of contact with people. But we know that one of the most effective ways of tackling loneliness is to tackle social isolation.
Between 2013 and 2016, Age UK Yorkshire & Humber implemented ‘Together for Health’: a new ‘social connectedness’ service to reduce loneliness and isolation and improve the health and wellbeing of vulnerable older people. The project set out to work with health service professionals to ‘prescribe’ the ‘Together for Health’ service to older people whose health needs were impacted by their social needs, as assessed through measurable risk factors of loneliness.
Together for Health took a holistic and personalised approach to each client, assessing their needs across 8 domains: Managing daily living; Managing finances, Managing physical health, Control & choice; Feeling safe; Social networks; Feeling valued; Emotional wellbeing. A range of interventions were offered, including signposting to other services.
By the end of January 2016, data was received on 667 clients who had taken part in Together for Health, with 19,526 hours spent with Age UK workers. Loneliness levels on referral were higher than average for this age group, at around 60%.
The Centre for Health Promotion Research at Leeds Beckett University evaluated this initiative and the results are in: Together for Health achieved its objectives of reducing social isolation and loneliness! Statistically significant improvements were seen in all of the eight domains at 6 and 12 weeks follow-up, with the largest increase seen in “social networks”. The study also saw a small but statistically significant improvement in loneliness scores over time.
Interviews with clients and staff delivering Together for Health identified social, financial and practical benefits to clients, who appreciated the friendly trustworthy service, supporting them and building their confidence. Staff described the approach as “client led” and collaborative, and reported wider benefits to family members, Age UK, the wider community, health and social services.
A social return on investment analysis found that the social value of Together for Health was £4.84 gained for every £1 invested.
For more information, read the full report: http://eprints.leedsbeckett.ac.uk/2887/
Bagnall AM, Raine G, Kinsella K, Southby K, Spoor C, South J, Giuntoli G (2016) Measuring well-being outcomes in older people receiving help from the Age UK ‘Together for Health’ initiative: A Social Return on Investment Analysis. Final Report. Leeds: Leeds Beckett University. http://eprints.leedsbeckett.ac.uk/2887/
Blog prepared by Dr Anne-Marie Bagnall, Reader in Evidence Synthesis (Health Inequalities), Centre for Health Promotion Research, Leeds Beckett University
The link to download the report and other materials is http://eprints.leedsbeckett.ac.uk/2887/
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