Cold weather combined with loneliness could be ‘lethal’ for elderly people this winter, warns Prof Jane Cummings, chief nursing officer of NHS England
Half of people older than 75 live alone, with some going long periods with no social interaction, and the Campaign to End Loneliness estimates that 1 in 10 older people are chronically lonely.
Prof Cummings said: ‘Loneliness has a devastating and life-threatening impact on people of all ages. For vulnerable groups, social isolation combined with the health dangers of colder weather is a lethal combination.’
She warned that incidences of stroke and heart attack tended to rise following a cold spell and that ‘simple acts of compassion’ could significantly improve the lives of older people.
Loneliness and isolation, according to the latest research, increases the risk of early death by around a third and is equally as damaging to health as doing no exercise. Meanwhile, 1 in 3 people who report that they are lonely have chronic health conditions, making them more vulnerable in the winter months.
The NHS has recently launched its ‘Stay Well This Winter’ campaign, which seeks to promote good health and encourage people to visit vulnerable relatives more often. Research for the campaign found that 56% of people aged 18 to 74 would like to visit their elderly relatives and friends more often.
‘We can all take steps to alleviate loneliness by looking out for family, friends and neighbours,’ added Prof Cummings.
Rachel Reeves MP and Seema Kennedy MP, co-chairs of the Jo Cox Loneliness Commission, which seeks to draw attention to loneliness in the UK, said: ‘The evidence of the impact of loneliness on people’s health and wellbeing is now overwhelming and we are delighted that NHS England are today supporting the need for all of us to look at what we can do to minimise it.
‘Loneliness is no longer just a personal misfortune but has grown into a social epidemic. If we can tackle it effectively we can make Britain not just a happier, but also a healthier country in which to live.’