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Unmet care needs and chronic loneliness rises as social care system 'fails to keep pace'

10-Mar-16
Article By: Melissa McAlees, News Editor

Thousands of older people are facing a ‘double whammy’ of unmet care needs and being chronically lonely, according to new research published by Age UK.

The charity has revealed that over one million older people need care but do not receive it from any source, be it from their local council, neighbours, relatives or friends.

An estimated 300,000 of these older adults are also struggling to cope with loneliness much of the time.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK said: “It’s bad enough to be struggling because of a care need and going without any support, but now it turns out that an appreciable number of older people in this position are facing a ‘double whammy’ because they are chronically lonely too.

“We think it is likely that many of these older people are living on their own and in quite isolating circumstances, unable to call on family, friends or neighbours for help if they need it. Frankly, this is no way to spend your days.

“The overriding purpose of social care is to meet a person’s social care needs but, of course, for an older person who can’t get out and about, a friendly chat – however brief – with a visiting care worker is extraordinarily precious if it’s the only conversation you’ll have all day.”

Age UK has called upon the Government to tackle loneliness among older people and fund more local support for those individuals.

Research shows that loneliness not only makes life miserable, it also undermines an older person’s resilience and makes them more susceptible to illness. Combatting loneliness more effectively would not only improve their quality of life, it would also help reduce demands on the NHS.

Ms Abrahams added: “Our social care system is in decline and failing to keep pace with our growing older population, leading to more older people with care needs going without formal help. Now, we can see from our analysis that this is adding to the problem of acute loneliness among older people too.

“These statistics are a challenge to Government policy and they are a wake-up call for the rest of us too: they mean there are a lot of very lonely and isolated older people around us, and we all have a responsibility to do more to help them.

“The Government should fund more local support for lonely older people and restore our crumbling social care system. And to everyone else - please find time for a friendly conversation with your elderly neighbour, phone the great-aunt you haven’t contacted for months, and do also consider volunteering with your local Age UK or another charity that supports older people who are vulnerable and alone.”

Davina Ludlow, director of homecare.co.uk, said: “It’s truly upsetting that so many older people lead such lonely lives.

“What we need is for local authorities to take responsibility for all older people within their community.

“There’s a vital need for them to raise awareness of and fund more home care agencies, as home care workers play a huge part in tackling loneliness and isolation.

“These care workers are not only providing much needed care and support to these vulnerable people, but for many, they are also their only friends and family.

“Every single person has a right to have someone caring for them, and the opportunity to interact with others.”

Researchers at Age UK have developed a new risk index to predict the likelihood of individuals suffering from chronic loneliness. A formula was devised to produce the index and maps showing neighbourhoods where there is greater risk of loneliness among older people.

For more information visit: http://www.ageuk.org.uk/professional-resources-home/research/loneliness-maps/

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