Epidemic of loneliness of the young, elderly, and the disabled
In developed nations, more people live alone than ever before. In some countries, one-third of those aged 45 to 65 are single. In places such as the United States, loneliness could be the next greatest public health crisis, right alongside obesity.
Lonely in the UK
More than nine million adults in the UK consider themselves to be always or often lonely. This was from a study conducted by the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness. That’s a large group of people who are impacted by this struggle.
Struggle of the older generation
The older generation is quite often affected by this because of their disability and other factors. Their social network diminishes by age as friends and family members pass away one by one. Due to retirement, they have more time in their hands, but their social calendars become lean, leading to a greater sense of loneliness.
An epidemic of the young
Even young people are not immune to loneliness which can even be called an epidemic due to its effects on the health of individuals. Surveys have found that within the United States, Generation Z who are 18-22-year-olds, say that they are lonelier than any other group.
Health risks of loneliness
A year-long study by Copenhagen University Hospital revealed the negative health outcomes of 13,443 people in conjunction with a heart attack. They found that women who are lonely had triple the possibility of dying within one year of their heart attacks. But those with an active social life did much better after a heart attack. For men with the same predicament, they had double the chance of dying within a year of their heart attacks.
To add to this, we see that patients who reported themselves to be lonely had triple the chance to be anxious and depressed. They also experienced a much lower quality of life. The Copenhagen study we mentioned above is one of the more recent ones within a large body of scientific work that seems to give proof of the negative health effects of loneliness.
What research reveals about loneliness
The results of one study even revealed that the negative health effects of loneliness are comparable to smoking or even obesity, which significantly increases the risk of death. Of course, there are various influences for this, but there is a chance of increased inflammation of the body connected with stress that causes damage to the immune system.
Further studies have revealed links to heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and a higher level of physical disability. Each of these physical issues is realities for people who deal with loneliness.
Social creatures and loneliness
As we are all internally social creatures, socializing is an integral part of who we are. And when this socializing diminishes or stops, certain parts of our brains are unused. Even simple minute activities such as holding a conversation or planning for a conversation forces certain actions within our brains. But when we don’t engage our minds, those parts of our brain can suffer disrepair.
The elderly and loneliness
Those who are older in age suffer a greater risk of mental decline, and they have a decrease in their memory. Along with this, their ability to learn new things also diminishes. The lonely are 64% more susceptible to dementia compared with those who have an active social life. Such people are more vulnerable to depression and other mental health issues. This may be one of the reasons that reduced interaction and loneliness often precede suicide in old age.
Trauma of loneliness
It must be acknowledged that loneliness is traumatic and those who suffer from it are more likely to visit doctors, and more likely to trip and fall. Such people often end up in residential care much before others do. There is new research that reveals that organized social events are a great benefit for those who suffer from depression resulting from loneliness.
Such events that foster social interactions have a significant role in reducing the severity of loneliness. In fact, even a little contact with the outside world will help to reduce feelings of loneliness and eventually lead to restored health for those who suffer from loneliness.
Disability and loneliness
Everyone experiences loneliness at some point in their lives. But extended, chronic loneliness is a serious problem for those who are disabled. There are numerous reasons for loneliness in the disabled. These can only be understood fully by those who experience some form of disability. Specialist UK disabled dating sites can certainly help since they break down barriers within the community.
The complexity of making friends is more acute for those who are disabled. Their access to transportation, entry into buildings, financial support, and even social care are a great challenge for the disabled.
Due to a dearth of understanding about disabilities and about the life of the disabled, many are not able to relate with those who suffer. Surveys have shown that 49% of the non-disabled expressed that they don’t have any commonality with the disabled and 26% admit to avoiding any conversations with a disabled person.
Government initiatives for the lonely
When the Government launched its Loneliness Strategy, its aim was to tackle loneliness with certain governmental measures. A part of this initiative was to allow GPs the ability to refer patients who are lonely to social activities which is called social prescribing.
They also set a plan in motion for postal workers to check in on people who are primarily isolated from the community. They also will help to connect them with their communities or families who could befriend them – all a part of their postal rounds. The Government has also allotted £1.8 million to increase community spaces for the public to use. They accomplished this by creating new community facilities that housed community gardens and cafes.
Responding to the disabled lonely
With the above statements, we don’t want to give the impression that loneliness is a natural result of disability. Sickness and disability naturally lead people to isolation, but society has the responsibility to respond appropriately rather than withdrawing from the disabled.
No one is immune to loneliness. Young or old, well or disabled, the situation is the same. People must have social interaction to live normal and healthy lives. The health risks are too costly and the social risks are even greater. This is our responsibility and our privilege to take steps to eradicate loneliness in our society.
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