Mark Easton, the BBC’s Home Editor, has rightly emphasised the importance of having friends or ‘company’ as an important factor in improving our health and increasing our longevity.
He decided to dig a bit deeper when the No 10 adviser said that loneliness is probably more dangerous to our health in retirement than smoking, to look at the research that underpinned that statement.
It is, as you’ll see if you clicked the link, pretty detailed and obtuse research which can be reduced to those with stronger social relationships had a 50 per cent increased likelihood of survival than those who lived more solitary lives.
Easton points out that research going back 30 years also showed that loneliness, or lack of social interaction, resulted in higher rates of mortality than expected.
These findings come under the heading of common sense. Humans have evolved as social creatures. Working and living together has enabled our survival and success. Being alone, not through choice but by circumstance we would rather avoid, makes us miserable, lethargic, demotivated and vulnerable.
He makes the point that if the evidence, not to mention our common sense understanding of our need for community and company, proves that loneliness is a ‘killer’, we should do more to prevent it.
Now whether it’s the job of the Government to try to make older people have more friends is doubtful. But they should give greater support to charities such as Contact the Elderly and Independent Age whose excellent schemes to reduce elderly isolation are underfunded.
They should also use the Big Society Network to create more intergenerational contact projects which will encourage young people to befriend older people and coach them to be more computer confident…and less lonely through use of the internet. The older people can impart their wisdom and knowledge to their younger friends who, in some cases, will be less likely to join gangs or participate in petty crime.
We at My Last Song are encouraged that the issues facing older people are now being seriously considered, whether it be funding their care, understanding how they want to die, giving them the send-off they want and helping them living longer, healthier and happier lives.
Why is this important? Just look at the demographics of this country (and indeed the US where the research was carried out)…the 70 year old plus group is the fastest growing with almost 7 million people aged 70 and over by 2015 in England alone. There will be far more than this in the US. Their needs must be taken seriously.