LONDON — For most of us, the older we get, the more we slow down physically. But for some, growing old also means slowing down socially — so much to the point that some home-bodied seniors go days with little to no human interaction. A new survey of British elders sheds light on this sad, but true effect of aging, noting that hundreds of thousands of people often go a week without speaking to a single person.
According to the survey of 1,896 seniors over 65 in the United Kingdom, more than one in five (22%) will have a conversation with no more than just three people over the span of an entire week! That translates to nearly 2.6 million elderly folks who don’t enjoy regular human contact on a daily basis. Perhaps most alarming though is researchers say an alarming 225,000 individuals will go a week without talking to anyone face-to-face.
“A friendly ‘hello’ or ‘how are you?’ is something most of us take for granted – it’s just part of every day life, but these latest figures show that hundreds of thousands of older people in the UK will spend today and the rest of this week alone, with no one to share even a few simple words with,” says Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, which partnered with Cadbury Dairy Milk to commission the research, in a statement.
The survey also revealed that 38% of seniors admit to feeling lonely at times as they’ve aged, with 12%, or about one in eight, agreeing that loneliness has kept them from leaving their home.
“Loneliness is a huge problem because retirement, bereavement and ill health mean many older people find they are spending a lot less time enjoying the company of others than they’d like,” says Abrahams. “Loneliness can affect your health, your wellbeing and the way you see yourself – it can make you feel invisible and forgotten.”
About 40% of seniors say they’d feel more confident to head out each day if they knew their neighbors. Just the thought of someone stopping to chat with them brightens their outlook: 54% of respondents agree that even a short conversation with a neighbor or acquaintance would greatly improve their day overall. And a quarter of older adults say it makes them feel good when someone smiles or acknowledges them while waiting in line at places like the bank or grocery store. One in five would be thrilled if someone stopped to ask them how their day had gone.
Meanwhile, another survey of 2,000 people ages 16-45 in the UK shows that 55% of younger folks admit to worrying about being lonely in their elder years. With that in mind, two-thirds of this segment say they’re willing to do something to help boost the confidence of a lonely senior, but 37% worry that such a gesture wouldn’t be well-received. Another 30% feel too shy to spark up a conversation with seniors, 27% admit they aren’t sure how to help, and a quarter say they’re simply too busy themselves.
To help in that area, Cadbury and Age UK have launched a new campaign called “Donate Your Words” to help cheer up lonely seniors. The campaign encourages people to help fight loneliness by pledging to stop and chat with elders in their communities.
The surveys were conducted on behalf of the campaign by OnePoll.