As of 2017, according to the Office for National Statistics 28% of UK households have only one person living in them. That means there are 7.7 million people living alone in the UK. For those aged 65 and over, the majority of people living alone are women (66.5%). because statistically men have tended to die before their wives because they are typically older. However, this is now changing and the number of widowed women is falling due to life expectancy increasing faster for men compared with women.
There are many specific challenges to living alone:
- People who live alone are typically poorer.
- Loneliness and social isolation.
- Lack of adequate nutrition because older people who live alone frequently do not eat proper balanced meals because they don’t see the point of “cooking for one”.
- Health problems such as hearing impairment are more likely to go undetected for longer.
- Difficulties rehabilitating after surgery or adapting to new physical capabilities following an illness or injury
Loneliness is a particular concern because it can accelerate the onset of dementia, have a negative effect on the cardio-vascular system and result in depression. According to the Campaign To End Loneliness living alone and having poor social connections are as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and worse for your overall health than obesity. For these reasons it is likely to increase your risk of death by 29% – a shocking statistic when it is an avoidable situation.
Fortunately, there are many effective strategies to help avoid loneliness. Making an effort to stay in touch with friends and family is a very simple strategy as they are people you already know.
Helping others through volunteer work is also a good way to increase your social connections. Charities, religious organisations and even primary schools are always in need of volunteers, and volunteer work can help build new relationships between people who share similar interests.
Another way to avoid loneliness and various other issues affecting the elderly is to take a further education class, take up a new hobby or explore new interests.
Living alone does not have to be a negative experience and many older people enjoy the independence of living alone. They engage in physical activity and social activities with like-minded people. Nevertheless, people have to be prepared to make the effort to avoid loneliness and social isolation.