A report has been published by the British Geriatrics Society (BGS) and the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych) calling on the Government to help improve identification and treatment for health conditions that can limit older people's independence and exacerbate their loneliness.
The report recognises that loneliness is a significant public health risk and has been shown to increase the likelihood of frailty, care home admission and mortality.
Older people are often at increased risk of loneliness due to a range of factors, including bereavement, outliving friends), poor health or mobility and frailty making it difficult to get out and be active. Sensory impairment, mild cognitive impairment and dementia put people at greater risk of loneliness, as does depression, anxiety and severe mental illness. The report added that many older people, including those experiencing mental and physical health problems themselves, are carers for spouses "whose needs often eclipse their own", and who experience social isolation and loneliness as a direct consequence of their caring role.
The report called on the Government and NHS commissioners to improve identification and treatment for health conditions such as dementia, frailty, incontinence, chronic pain, visual impairment, foot health, malnutrition and oral health, all of which can limit older people's independence and therefore increase their loneliness.
It also highlighted the need for earlier identification of depression and cognitive impairment, and provision of relevant treatments including talking therapies, psychosocial interventions and, where appropriate, medication.
The report recommends greater recognition of the needs of carers, and clear and open lines of communication between primary care, community health, mental health, inpatient care and social care professionals.
BGS President Professor Tahir Masud said there was a great deal that all of society can do, from the Government through to community groups and individuals, to better support older people. He said: “While we may remain proud that people are living longer lives, this alone is not sufficient. We must also ensure that they have a good quality of life and that they are enabled to live fulfilling and happy lives into their later years.”
RCPsych Faculty of Old Age Psychiatry Chair Dr Amanda Thompsell added: “Loneliness is fast becoming a public health pandemic. The Government must increase the number of specialists in health and care working with older people so health issues that can limit independence and contribute to loneliness are identified early and addressed quickly."
The report is available at: www.bgs.org.uk.
Last reviewed 14 January 2020