A Lonely Planet?

September 28, 2018
3 min read

With the International Day of Older Persons approaching, there are significant issues affecting over-55s in the UK that are becoming more widely reported.

Loneliness, which is part of a much wider social issue that impacts across generations and demographics, is increasingly affecting older people. Within seven years the number of over-50s who are lonely will rise to two million, according to the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing released by Age UK.

Mintel’s Trend Social Isolation highlights how loneliness is exacerbated by constant connectivity and lack of physical contact with others – but for the older generation, this can be enhanced further by such things as health issues, the loss of a partner, lack of mobility and more. Beyond the physical, however, the creeping growth of loneliness spreads into much more – for instance self-esteem, depression and anxiety. And loneliness doesn’t just mean being alone – it encapsulates much more that is not fully understood.

Indeed, 10% of UK over-75s say they are too old to make new friends, according to Mintel research on the lifestyles of over-55s , highlighting that loneliness is not just down to, or due to, the growth of digital technology. In an ageing population, such as the UK’s, there is a significant concern about the impact this will have in the future. The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has set up an £11 million fund as part of its upcoming loneliness strategy, highlighting how there is a growing focus on loneliness as a social crisis.

We have seen how people’s attitudes to and expectations about relationships have changed, with dating apps exemplifying a new way of forming romantic connections. Interestingly, when asked to rank their levels of confidence, Millennials put going on a first date at the bottom of the list, below such things as going for a job interview or seeking help for mental health concerns. We have seen how the continual uncertainty around the globe, from politics and migration to finance and housing, creates new types of pressure on people. And we have seen how the internet has fostered new ways to bully and judge others.

But the story isn’t entirely negative. For all these challenges and changes, there are emerging movements and ways of behaving that highlight the inherent good in the world. There is no shortage of innovation when it comes to recognising loneliness and aiming to tackle at least some elements of it. Social Oven in Poland is an initiative that aims to create opportunities for elderly residents to socialise with their neighbours by encouraging them to cook for them. While in China, a design student has launched Bad Dog, a robot dog designed to keep lonely young people company while providing a wide range of services to the owner.

Credit: www.technode.com

However, it is crucial that we don’t start thinking about loneliness as something that can simply be ‘solved’ – but the growing awareness around what it can mean for people, how it manifests itself, and the impact it has on others, means that support will continue to grow too. Loneliness is not going anywhere, but together, brands, governments and other people can offer a helping hand to those who are suffering, and begin to make significant change into the causes.

Simon Moriarty
Simon Moriarty

Simon is the EMEA Director of Trends, responsible for content, client servicing and commercial support across the region.

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