Being lonely is not just a sad situation, but one that is detrimental to health, it has been discovered. According to a new report by the Jo Cox Commission, loneliness is as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being obese.
Among the people that are most affected by what the organisation called ‘a social epidemic’ are the elderly. If they are less able to get out and about or friends and relatives don’t live nearby, it can mean long stretches of time without seeing anybody.
The Jo Cox Commission is calling on the government to set up initiatives to help prevent loneliness and improve the quality of life for many people. It discovered that the lonely have a higher risk of premature death by a third.
A statement released in conjunction with the report said: “Jo always looked forwards, not back: she would have said that what matters most now are the actions, big and small, that people take in response to the commission’s work. That’s a responsibility for all of us.”
Personal circumstances can make it difficult to go and see lonely relatives regularly, but there are other things that can be done to help. A simple phone conversation can make all the difference to someone who hasn’t had any company for days. Ringing at the same time each week will give them something to look forward to.
Write letters to elderly relatives and include photos of the family, so they feel connected to younger generations. Encourage them to write back and detail the things they have been doing. This could be the incentive to leave the house that they need.
There are a number of organisations that offer befriending services for the lonely, so it may be worth helping your relative to get involved. This will mean someone can stop by for a cup of tea and a chat if you are geographically too far away to do so.
Care homes are another good environment to stop the elderly from becoming lonely. As well as having other residents to make friends with and activities to enjoy, care staff are constantly on hand and can alleviate feelings of loneliness.
While the Jo Cox Commission is asking that a minister for loneliness is put in place and more publicity campaigns be enacted, individuals can also do their bit. Even small acts can make all the difference and make resources go further.
Professor Jane Cummings, chief nursing officer for England, said: “NHS staff see first-hand the acute consequences of loneliness, which can affect so many people of all ages. This has profound implications for the NHS, especially over winter when our hospitals, community services and GPs are already over-stretched.
“Our advice is for people to keep a friendly eye on relatives, friends and neighbours, as this simple act could prevent serious illness and even save lives,” she added.