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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

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Epidemic of loneliness in Scotland

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Age Scotland has raised its concern after a new study showed older people are struggling to cope during lockdown

A charity has said it is concerned there is an “epidemic” of loneliness in Scotland.

New research has shown almost three quarters (71%) of over-55s have struggled with the lockdown, prompting Age Scotland to raise concerns about how older people are coping.

The study from Santander found that four in 10 adults in the UK (38%) have noticed a deterioration in the health and wellbeing of their older and vulnerable relatives since the start of the lockdown.

More than half of older people say they have heard less from their friends and family in the last few months, while one in five (21%) have been drinking too much alcohol to cope with feelings of isolation.

One in eight (12%) feel that the pandemic will have a lasting impact on their feelings of loneliness even when it is over.

Brian Sloan, chief executive of Age Scotland, said: “While not entirely surprising, these stark new figures are deeply worrying. We already knew that chronic loneliness was a huge problem before the pandemic, with one significantly lonely older person on every street in Scotland.

“Sadly this research confirms our suspicion that these numbers have shot up considerably in the last few months. It’s heart-breaking to think of hundreds of thousands of older people stuck at home for days or weeks on their own, without as much as a friendly phone call.

“While reducing contact can save lives now, we can’t ignore this hidden epidemic behind closed doors. Loneliness quite literally can kill – it is as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and increases our chances of heart disease and dementia. In addition, it can seriously impact our mental health, leading to severe depression and anxiety. As this research shows, it can also lead to unhealthy habits, such as drinking too much or neglecting to eat properly.”

Sloan added the charity hears every day from older people about the struggles they are facing.

He said: “Our helpline advisors hear every day from callers who are struggling to cope, with only their TV for company. Many feel extremely low, anxious or isolated, or even feel their lives aren’t worth living. Callers often say it is just nice to hear a friendly voice again.

“It’s especially sad to hear that so many have seen reduced contact from their family and friends. While visiting our older relatives may not be an option now, we can all reach out by phone, video call or an old-fashioned letter or card. It doesn’t take much effort but can make a huge difference to someone who is on their own.

“As lockdown eases and we start getting back to the ‘new normal’, it’s vital that we don’t forget those who are especially vulnerable or still shielding. We’ve seen a heartening response from communities and volunteers across Scotland, but we need to keep these efforts going to ensure no one has to go through this alone.”

Age Scotland launched its Friendship Calls this month. Anyone feeling lonely or who just fancies a blether can call free on 0800 12 44 222, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.



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