Loneliness and ill health go hand in hand

loneliness08:27 Monday 31st November 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

DOTTY MCLEOD: We mentioned earlier on the issue of loneliness, and a new study has found that being alone is just the tip of the iceberg for some older people. This is a report from academics at Anglia Ruskin University. It found that many older people who are suffering from loneliness are more likely to suffer also from a long term illness or disability and have an overall low enjoyment of life. Dr Claire Preston is a Research Fellow at Anglia Ruskin University and is based in Cambridge. Morning Claire.
CLAIRE PRESTON: Good morning.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Do you know which causes which here? Is it more likely that being lonely makes you ill, or does an illness make you more likely to be lonely?
CLAIRE PRESTON: It’s actually both, and it works at its worst in a vicious circle, where the two things feed into each other. There are particular aspects of health where there’s a weight of evidence persuading that actually loneliness causes that health condition.
DOTTY MCLEOD: So what kind of things?
CLAIRE PRESTON: That’s actually cardiac problems.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Seriously?
CLAIRE PRESTON: Yes. And I think the mechanism is to do with stress. So cardiac and vascular problems, there is evidence out there. A researcher in America called Cacioppo , and you might have heard earlier this year there was a lot of research about obesity, and he was saying it’s worse than obesity. Loneliness is worse for your health than obesity. And because of that work there’s now a recognition that it is a public health issue.
DOTTY MCLEOD: And this study that you’ve carried out, it was looking at a phone line, wasn’t it? This is quite an interesting way of going about it.
CLAIRE PRESTON: Yes. What we were doing was we were evaluating the Silver Line, which is the phone line that Esther Rantzen has set up. Esther Rantzen set up the Childine many years ago you may remember. And then she herself lost her husband, obviously much later in her life, and as a result of the loneliness she felt at that time she set up the Silver Line, which has been going for a couple of years now. So we did a stud y on the Silver Line, and we did lots of surveys and we spoke to lots to their callers, and that’s how we have got the information we’ve got from this research.
DOTTY MCLEOD: We often talk about loneliness amongst the elderly. But it’s not a unique problem to people who are older is it?
CLAIRE PRESTON: No. The other group that’s equally lonely as the elderly, so there’s two groups that top the loneliness scale if you like, and that’s the elderly and also young people. So I think people I think below the age of twenty five. That’s not my area so much as the older people. But I think that the reason the attention is on the older people and loneliness is because there are these health problems that are wrapped up with loneliness.
DOTTY MCLEOD: And what do we do about it Claire?
CLAIRE PRESTON: Well what our research really showed is that we need to do a number of things. There’s not a one solution that fits all, because people feel loneliness in different ways. Some people’s solution to their loneliness would be different to another person’s solution depending. So we’ve got one word really for a multiplicity of different ways of being lonely. So I think it’s very important that something like a phone line, like the Silver Line is there, is very good for people who are stuck at home. 90% of the people who call the Silver Line to have a friend, that’s one of the services they offer, live alone. And they’re stuck at home maybe through one of these ill-health problems. So for people like that a phone line is really important. But if that’s not your situation, if what you need for your loneliness is actually to see somebody, to sit and chat face to face, then those services should be there too. So that’s very much our opinion of the result of the research. So we should have a variety of solutions to loneliness basically.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Claire, thank you very much for coming in and telling us about this this morning. Dr Claire Preston there who is a Research Fellow at Anglia Ruskin University based in Cambridge. We did hear earlier from two local charities who do provide help for people who might be feeling a little bit alone. One was Age UK Cambridgeshire. The other was called Caresco which is based in Sawtry. And I’d not actually heard of the Silver Line, this confidential phone number for older people who feel like they could do with a bit of help, but the number is 0800 4708090.