Older generation in Scotland ‘amongst the least lonely in the UK’

older peoleA new report into the levels of loneliness amongst older people has named Scotland as one of the least lonely places to live in the UK.

Compiled by cross-party think tank Demos, the report was commissioned by housebuilder McCarthy and Stone to better understand how loneliness amongst older people can be tackled.

Highlighting wide regional variations in the number of older people experiencing loneliness, the report saw Scotland emerge as one of the least lonely places to live, with 73 per cent of over 55s saying they had socialised often over the last year. In contrast, London is highlighted as the UK’s loneliest region, with four out of five (87 per cent) Londoners aged 55 and over admitting to often feeling lonely.

Scotland reported consistently highly for socialising with nearly four in ten stating they had access to age-appropriate social events in the local area and 62 per cent felt a strong sense of community in their neighbourhood, suggesting local communities and neighbours may play a larger role in encouraging socialising than family and friends.

Loneliness is a growing concern in the UK with over a million older people admitting to consistently feeling lonely – with those over 80 almost twice as likely to report feeling lonely in comparison to their younger counterparts.

The report, Building Companionship: how better design can combat loneliness in later life, highlighted evidence showing how loneliness can have a declining effect on a person’s health, with people who say they feel lonely more likely to suffer from high blood pressure and depression, and are more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease in later life in comparison to those with stronger social relationships. In fact, researchers have estimated that loneliness has a comparable risk to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Results showed that the high levels of companionship found in purpose-built retirement developments could be emulated in the wider community, with building design and town planning key factors to help address social isolation. It found that 85 per cent of those surveyed in McCarthy & Stone developments said there is a good sense of community in their development, compared to just 51 per cent of those aged 55+ in the wider community. What’s more, those who live in retirement housing tend to report feeling much less lonely than their peers in mainstream housing.

The report recommends a number of lessons that can be applied from retirement housing to wider neighbourhood design, including:

  • Place: The creation of ‘cities for all ages’ – areas incorporating transport, housing, street furniture and green space which enable older people to remain socially, physically and mentally active.
  • People: Local authorities should encourage active citizenship amongst the older generation, recruiting ambassadors to work with their peers to encourage social engagement and inclusion in the area. These ambassadors should also engage with private sector companies to help provide opportunities for socialising.
  • The report also recommends:

    • Increasing the provision of retirement housing: This is integral to the success of the fight against loneliness in older people given its many benefits. National and local policy makers are encouraged to help unlock supply and boost the development and availability of age appropriate housing for older people keen to downsize.
    • Neighbourhood planning strategies to have a Joint Strategic Needs Assessment and Health and Wellbeing Strategies to match. Statutory guidance should ensure loneliness is identified as a public health risk and as such needs to be tackled as part of health and care commissioning.
    • Real social networks: Schemes that develop older people’s IT skills to prioritise education around activity which will result in ‘real life’ interactions such as joining forums and local groups.
    • Clive Fenton, CEO of McCarthy & Stone, said: “We supported this report to explore the extent to which older people are less lonely in retirement housing, and whether lessons might be learnt for wider aspects of housing policy, such as neighbourhood planning. The findings are compelling – our homeowners are typically much happier and better connected than their peers in the community. In turn, this delivers significant cost savings for the NHS, social care and wider economy due to the link between not feeling lonely and better health. But building more retirement housing is just one solution to combatting loneliness - developers and local and national government should review the recommendations in this report and consider adapting how we design neighbourhoods more generally.”

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