Older people visiting GPs due to loneliness
Published on 15 November 2013 02:00 PM
Loneliness is a common problem among older people - and it appears many are turning to their doctor for help.
New research suggests that thousands of individuals over the age of 65 are visiting their GP each year because they are lonely.
A survey carried out for the Campaign to End Loneliness reveals that up to 10 patients a day visit their local surgery looking for answers.
But 49% of the doctors questioned admitted they were not confident they had the tools necessary to help their lonely patients, with only 13% thinking they could really help.
'Far too many people are feeling so lonely'
3 million people aged over 65 suffer from loneliness in the UK.
Kate Jopling, director of the Campaign to End Loneliness, is calling for urgent action to tackle the growing problem.
'Far too many people are feeling so lonely - and are so at a loss about what to do about it - that they end up going to see their doctor,' she said.
'It's time we committed to a more co-ordinated public health response that targets resources towards better support for lonely people, and prevention of loneliness for those at risk.
'I know that many doctors will feel frustrated at not being able to help their patients but there are things they can do.
'There are many schemes, both public and voluntary, that can help lonely older people and the first step for doctors should be to signpost these to patients.'
We need 'a more co-ordinated public health response'
The campaigners claim that loneliness and isolation are associated with poor mental, physical and emotional health, including increased rates of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, cognitive decline and dementia.
They also state that isolated and lonely adults are more likely to be admitted into residential or nursing care much earlier.
As the issue of loneliness escalates nationwide, local authorities are being urged to do their bit by helping better track and support lonely older people and increase awareness of loneliness as a public health issue.
Loneliness associated with poor physical and emotional health
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director of Age UK says:
‘New measures that help ensure older people receive healthcare that meets their individual needs are long overdue.
'Steps that lead to people receiving better quality and more joined up healthcare are to be welcomed.
'In practice we know this means making sure every older person has access to high quality integrated healthcare that provides holistic support and also treats them with dignity.
‘Many older people living with frailty will value the availability of home visits, face to face appointments and accessible surgeries, as well as knowing their care should be more joined up.
‘We very much look forward to hearing more detail of what today's announcement will mean in practice.'
Older people can get in touch with their local Age UK to see how the Charity can help through a range of services such as befriending, which might include home visits and telephone calls for people who are feeling lonely or isolated.
Many local Age UKs also offer other social activities such as lunch clubs and day centre activities including exercise classes, coffee mornings, as well as volunteering opportunities.
If anyone is worried about an older person this winter call Age UK Advice on 0800 169 65 65. Lines are open from 8am to 7pm, seven days a week.
Copyright Press Association 2013