Mitigating the Loneliness Epidemic among the Elderly

Loneliness is more than dinners for one and evenings spent staring at the phone. It’s a powerful all-consuming emotion that has a direct and malignant effect on our health and has been compared to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.1 The loneliest among us are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s Disease as those who experience only moderate loneliness.2

Loneliness is debilitating and depressing, removing individuals from real-life experience. In the UK among the elderly population, more than 1 million older people say they always or often feel lonely.3 And nearly half of all people aged 75 years or older live alone.4 That’s a lot of loneliness affecting the long-term health of a generation, our communities, and the NHS.

At W2O, our mission is to make the world a healthier place. Through data, creativity, and insight, we look to build lasting connections vital to our health. Although loneliness isn’t currently officially recognised as a “health condition” or “disease”, it is as much a threat to health and society as heart disease or cancer.

So, this year, our team has voted loneliness in the elderly as the cause to which we will dedicate our pro bono efforts.

Such a complex issue will never have a single, simple solution – which is why partnerships, affiliations, and collaboration are so important. As a first step, we began exploring the impact of loneliness by analysing UK trends on social media. We saw a striking peak in concern about the emotional welfare of the elderly at the end of March. Then, although lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic continued through April, the online conversation quickly tailed off and focus drifted elsewhere. Over that time, the feelings of loneliness in vulnerable elderly populations undoubtedly escalated, heightened by the anxiety of the pandemic.5

Figure 1 Conversation trend analysis in the UK on the topics of “loneliness”, “social isolation” and “elderly”5

As it was Loneliness Awareness Week recently, we again looked at conversation trends to see if the attention had returned to topic had returned. Sadly, we saw conversations continuing to dip even during this week of devoted focus.

Of course, loneliness isn’t an issue that can be addressed in a week or month or even years.  It can’t be addressed solely through a few tweets or a short-lived visual campaign. There have already been some amazing efforts have been put in place to bring awareness to the issue of loneliness in the elderly – many delivered by dedicated charities.

We believe an enduring solution to the challenge of loneliness will be grounded in healthcare and science, built on data and insights, brought to life with creative campaigns, and delivered through a multi-platform approach. This is our remit and one we take very seriously. Our team is looking forward to tackling this important topic with the goal of mitigating the spread of the epidemic of loneliness.

Loneliness is an epidemic suffered in silence and behind closed doors. We are looking to develop a solution with the emotional relevance and empathetic resonance to help people reach those in need and make a meaningful, lasting change.

The future of health and healthcare depend on it.

This is the first in a series of articles we will be sharing as part of a campaign to tackle loneliness. We will be sharing more in the future as we continue to delve into the data.

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages.

  1. Holt-Lunstad J. The potential public health relevance of social isolation and loneliness: prevalence, epidemiology, and risk factors. Public Policy Aging Rep 2017: 27(4);127-130.
  2. Wilson RS, Krueger KR, Arnold SE, et al. Loneliness and risk of Alzheimer disease. Arch Gen Psychiatry 2007:64(2);234-240.
  3. One Voice: Shaping our ageing society. Age Concern and Help the Aged, 2009.
  4. A report on the 2010 General Lifestyle Survey. Office for National Statistics, 2012.
  5. Symplur Signals, a healthcare social media analytics platform. Accessed June 2020.
Jess Skett
Jess Skett

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