Tony O’Flaherty, Director of Home Instead Senior Care for Wandsworth, Lambeth & Dulwich, on why loneliness is so damaging for the elderly, especially those living with dementia
Loneliness is a modern epidemic. With more and more of us living in crowded cities, it seems impossible to feel lonely, but it’s the quality of the social interaction that counts, and calls and texts don’t always help.
The elderly, unsurprisingly, are most vulnerable to social isolation and feelings of loneliness, since it’s harder for them to get out and about and they are much less likely to use technology for meaningful communication the way that younger people might.
Age UK reminds us that one million older people in the UK can go for a whole month without speaking to a friend, neighbour or family member. Their popular Man on the Moon Christmas advert collaboration with John Lewis back in 2015 highlighted the problem in a particularly poignant manner:
Social isolation (defined by Age UK as separation from social or familial contact, community involvement, or access to services) and loneliness (a more subjective sense of lacking these things) can also have detrimental effects on our health.
Social isolation and loneliness are associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease, in part because they can be a physical or psycho-social stressor, resulting in damaging behaviour such as smoking.
‘Social isolation and loneliness are associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease’
There is also a relationship between dementia and loneliness – there are a wealth of reasons why elderly people with dementia may become isolated as a result of the disease.
The Alzheimer’s Society reports that people with dementia are at a much higher risk of being socially isolated than other groups – losing friends, being unable to leave the house as often and having difficulties in communicating are just three of the many reasons why this may be the case.
Feelings of loneliness can be damaging to both the mental and physical health of your loved one with dementia. Without social stimulation and interaction, elderly people with dementia become increasingly withdrawn, perhaps even leading to the deterioration of their disease.
Many elderly people and those living with dementia need extra support to complete everyday tasks such as eating, drinking, dressing themselves and doing something that they enjoy each day. Without this kind of support, long-term loneliness can become a sad reality.
‘Without social stimulation and interaction, elderly people with dementia become increasingly withdrawn, perhaps even leading to the deterioration of their disease’
Public Health England highlights the importance of providing groups at risk of loneliness with ‘a sense of belonging and identity’. This becomes even more important when we consider how dementia affects the brain and the knock-on effects this can have on your loved one’s personality and ability to communicate.
People living with dementia need routine, and a little time and patience, so at Home Instead Senior Care, we aim to send the same caregivers for each call, and our calls last a minimum of one hour.
Our dementia-trained caregivers have helped over 7,000 families continue to grant an elderly relative independence in their own home, as well as bringing social interaction, companionship and exciting activities back into their life.
Contact the Wandsworth, Lambeth & Dulwich branch on 020 8871 0006 or see homeinstead.co.uk for further information on the care we provide