We discuss Government’s loneliness strategy and how Alzheimer’s Society supports people affected by dementia at risk of social isolation, including carers.
Many of us will feel lonely occasionally. Being alone every once in a while can be beneficial. It may provide an opportunity for self-reflection and awareness. However, research suggests that social isolation and loneliness can be harmful.
Four shocking statistics behind social isolation
- Lacking social connections can damage a person’s health as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day
- Loneliness can increase one’s risk of developing certain diseases, such as dementia
- Social isolation and loneliness presents one of the biggest health and social care challenges of the 21st century, increasing one’s risk of dying by 29 per cent.
- Half a million of older people do not see or speak to anyone for more than six days a week.
How loneliness affects people with dementia
People affected by dementia have a higher risk of being socially isolated and lonely than other social groups. This issue is therefore of great importance, especially to Alzheimer’s Society.
Over a third (35 per cent) of people with dementia that we spoke to as part of our Turning Up the Volume report said they have felt lonely recently.
A third of people with dementia said they had lost friends following a diagnosis. The reasons for this were manifold.
Some people reported that their friends moved to new neighbourhoods, sheltered accommodation or a care home as they were getting older and required more assistance. But the stigma around dementia also resulted in people affected by condition to become more isolated.
Research from Alzheimer’s Society suggests that some people living with dementia have poor experiences when coming into contact with people outside their immediate social circle. This can make them want to withdraw from society.
A very good friend of mine is afraid to come and see me. I have contacted him, but he hasn’t got back to me. A couple of people are a bit wary of me, because I’ve got Alzheimer’s and they are afraid of what it might be.
- Person living with dementia
Feeling lonely as a carer
Carers of people with dementia also experience social isolation and loneliness.
Currently three in five family carers say caring for someone with dementia has impacted their own health.
63 per cent of carers say they have had no or not enough support.
More than half of all carers who support someone with dementia for 20 hours or more a week said they felt lonely recently.
How the Government aims to help fight loneliness
Theresa May described loneliness as a sad reality of modern life. The Prime Minister offered propositions to tackle this issue head-on.
The UK is the first and only country in the world to have appointed a Minister for Loneliness, Tracey Crouch and to develop a loneliness strategy.
The Government ran a consultation for the loneliness strategy to understand what works in fighting this issue. It will invest £20 million in initiatives that aim to increase social connections and the quality of these relationships.
We therefore welcome the Government’s initiative to launch a loneliness strategy. Here we highlight a service that tackles loneliness and social isolation among people affected by dementia.
Side by Side is taking on loneliness
Alzheimer’s Society provides a peer-support service called Side by Side. It supports people living with dementia who are at risk of social isolation and loneliness.
It can help to encourage people with dementia retain or re-engage in their favourite activities and try even new ones. They may seek a companion to get out of the house by going to the library or taking a walk in the park, for example.
Carers also benefit from this service by gaining some free time. People affected by dementia, such as primary carers, have made new connections. They have also become more engaged in community activities.
The research evidence is clear that preventing reducing loneliness is vital to enabling people affected by dementia to live longer and more happily. We hope you can help us to achieve this.
Become a Side by Side volunteer
We are looking for more volunteers to buddy up with people with dementia. By sharing an activity that you enjoy, you can make a big difference.