Can we learn from Britain’s Minister for Loneliness?

Just a few weeks ahead of Valentine’s Day—when some individuals may experience heightened feelings of loneliness over love—the U.K. government appointed the country’s first Minister for Loneliness to manage what has been called an “epidemic” of lonely people in the country.

This begs the question: How has loneliness shifted from an individual concern to a societal issue that demands a national strategy to address it? And why should seniors be especially aware?

In early 2017, the British government founded the Jo Cox Commision on Loneliness to shine a spotlight on the nine million Brits—including 1.2 million seniors—who consider themselves lonely. There was good reason to investigate: in recent decades, several international studies have documented the surprising health effects of social isolation and loneliness. For example, is has been shown that being chronically lonely is as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes per day, and is more detrimental to health than obesity. Lonely people are more likely to suffer from dementia, heart disease and depression.

The Jo Cox Commission found the following:

  • For 3.6 million people over 65, television is their primary form of company
  • More than one in three people over 75 say that feelings of loneliness are out of their control
  • Three out of four family doctors said they see between 1-5 people who come in mainly because they are lonely
  • Eight out of 10 caregivers have felt lonely or isolated as a result of looking after a loved one

There’s also good news. The Commission is hoping to galvanize many community-based strategies to combat loneliness, and efforts are already underway in recognizing the problem and helping people to overcome the stigma many people feel in admitting they aren’t happy with their social life.

Consider these important ways to improve your social life in your retirement years:

1)   Take a chance on joining a new activity or group that interests you. It can be almost anything—spending time with like-minded people is inherently energizing and fosters a sense of purpose and belonging, which increases feelings of social happiness.

2)   Start caring for something other than yourself. It can be a plant, a garden, a pet, or even volunteering to help someone else.

3)   If you are having vision or hearing problems, get tested. Older adults who have difficulty on these fronts may start isolating themselves because of challenges with their condition, or difficulty in communicating with others.

4)   Have lunch, dinner or coffee with others. Sharing food and drink is one of the best ways to connect with people and feel more socially engaged.

Many individuals who have chosen to move into a retirement residence find that the community lifestyle helps to re-invigorate their social lives. In fact, “I wish I’d done this years ago” is a comment often heard from new residents. Whether dining with friends, engaging in an exercise class, participating in an outing or simply chatting with staff at reception, there are an abundance of social opportunities at Chartwell residences.

To learn more about retirement living at Chartwell, call 1-855-461-0685 today.