Half of Britain"s over-80s are lonely with women most like to say they feel cut off from friends and family

The lonely generation: A third of over-50s feel isolated… and it's as bad for their health as smoking 15 a day, say campaigners
Among over-80s 46% say they feel lonely often or some of the timeWomen are more likely to feel isolated than men, research showsLoneliness can affect a person as badly as smoking 15 cigarettes a day

By
Matt Chorley and Tamara Cohen

PUBLISHED:

16:19 GMT, 11 April 2013

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UPDATED:

01:54 GMT, 12 April 2013

An epidemic of loneliness is harming the health of thousands of over-50s, official figures reveal.

A third of those who reach their half century are blighted by lonely feelings, which campaigners say can affect them as badly as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Women are affected more than men in all age groups, and those who had been separated, widowed or divorced were most likely to experience feelings of isolation.

The over-80s are most likely to be lonely, according to new research from the Office for National Statistics

The over-80s are most likely to be lonely, according to new research from the Office for National Statistics

Researchers said loneliness was a
‘complex and unpleasant’ feeling of being unconnected from others or
their community, and can be felt even when surrounded by people.

Among the over-80s, nearly half – 46
per cent – of those surveyed by the Office for National Statistics
reported feeling lonely often or some of the time. But most
surprisingly, among those aged 52 and over, which today is seen as
middle age, 34 per cent said they felt the same.

The phenomenon is likely to be driven by a surge in ‘silver splitters’ – baby boomer couples divorcing later in life.

Ros Altmann of Saga said this was a
‘tumultuous time’ for older people who had expected a passive retirement
but not had the financial freedom to go it alone.

Paul Burstow, a Lib Dem former
minister responsible for mental health, said yesterday: ‘What these
figures expose is a hidden epidemic behind the net curtains of our
communities.

Older women are most likely to report feelings of loneliness

Older women are most likely to report feelings of loneliness (file picture)

‘This chronic isolation can lead to
people becoming ill and dying earlier. Keeping people connected to their
communities is absolutely critical if we are to reduce the impact on
social services, the NHS and the quality of life for our ageing
population.’

Mr Burstow added: ‘For people in
their 50s we need to make sure people are planning for retirement, and
boost local organisations and voluntary activities which help people
build up contacts.’

Laura Ferguson, director of the
Campaign to End Loneliness, said the condition was more dangerous than
many imagined and had serious health consequences.

She said women in their 50s may be at
higher risk of loneliness because of a combination of increased rates
of divorce, empty-nest syndrome and being less likely to have worked in
the same place for as long as men of the same generation.

Miss Ferguson said: ‘Physically,
being lonely is the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day in terms
of causes of early death. Isolation can also contribute to depression
and Alzheimer’s.

‘A lot is already being done to
combat loneliness and the best thing that can be done now is not remove
the activities that are already there for people who feel lonely, from
singing groups to lunch clubs or anything they are interested in.’

Michelle Mitchell, of Age UK, said
the squeeze on budgets for adult social care could make the problem
worse. She added: ‘The on-going crisis in the provision of social care
means that large numbers of older people are missing out on essential
care that could make the difference between staying active and becoming
isolated.’ About 8,800 people were surveyed for the project.

n ONE in three people in their 60s undergo a ‘later life’ crisis when they question the meaning of life, claim researchers.

The crisis is often triggered by two
or more episodes of loss, such as a bereavement or life-threatening
illness suffered by a loved one or themselves.

Dr Oliver Robinson, from the
University of Greenwich, who led the research, said it was important for
people in their 60s to recognise the signs and for some to seek help.

He said: ‘If you handle it badly it can accelerate your decline.’

Women are most likely to feel isolated across all age groups, the statistics suggested

Women are most likely to feel isolated across all age groups, the statistics suggested