Time to break the silence on loneliness: CARDI blog
- Republic of Ireland
Loneliness is a complex issue but one that has a big impact on the lives of those who experience it, especially older people. A recent research study from the University of Chicago found that the loneliest people were nearly twice as likely to die during their six-year study than the least lonely older people. In this blog CARDI invited Anne Dempsey, Head of Information at Third Age to write about this issue, how it impacts older people and some of the initiatives being taken by her organisation to combat loneliness:
"We have never been so connected to each other thanks to modern technology, so it may be ironic that for many of Ireland’s older population, life can seem very lonely with little social contact in their daily lives. Last year, Senior Help Line, Ireland’s only peer service for older people provided by trained volunteers, received over 30,000 calls. In a good proportion of these, loneliness was either expressed or implied. The service is managed by Third Age, a voluntary organisation promoting the value of older people in communities.
Of course, we can be lonely at any age. Loneliness is a state of mind, characterised by feelings of sadness, longing, even despair. We are social beings. An isolated daily routine can for make an unhealthy lifestyle and nudge towards depression and mental illness. Loneliness has actually been likened to cancer and heart disease in its corrosive effect on the body, mind and spirit.
However, loneliness in older people can be considered existential and part of the territory of ageing. With ageing come loss – the loss of spouses, family, friends, the loss of health, the loss of income and purpose – and in an ageist society, the loss of status and a feeling of being counted.
Around 136,000 older people in Ireland live alone according to latest figures from the CSO. Many of these are older people. While loneliness is different from being alone, many older people - already isolated through bereavement, disability or an isolated location - find their solitary lives to be particularly difficult.
The proportion of people in Ireland aged 65 years or older is projected to increase from 11% of the overall population in 2006 to 20% by 2036 according to the Mercer Institute for Research on Ageing which has embarked on a Loneliness Study. Within it older volunteers have been trained in specific skills to enable them to work with older people. The hope is that new synergies created will encourage a higher level of social engagement for the participants, with the added expectation of improved health and a stronger sense of belonging.
The UK Campaign to Combat Loneliness urges all interested people to write to the media, politicians, local health authority to raise the issue of loneliness in older age. Television presenter Gloria Hunniford supports their call, and last year campaigner Esther Rantzen set up The Silver Line, a 24-telephone service for older people. Ms Rantzen was inspired by the work of Senior Help Line and met Irish Senior Help Line volunteers on a number of occasions before launching her own service. Senior Help Line helps to combat loneliness by being there for callers, by listening, supporting and encouraging them to voice their problems and to help themselves in the best way they can.
Nobody is to blame for loneliness. Awareness that there are lonely people living secret lives of some desperation at times is a first step toward acknowledging this particular 21st century phenomenon."
Senior Help Line 1850 440 444 10am-10pm every day of the year
Mercer Institute for Research on Ageing www.misa.ie
The Silver Line 0800 4 70 80 90
Head of Information Third Age