Loneliness is the silent scourge of older people: poll

Loneliness affects more than three quarters of older Australians: poll.

Loneliness is the silent scourge of older people: poll

More than one-fifth of Australians feel they never or rarely have someone to talk to in times of need and more than a quarter feel lonely for at least three days each week, says a study by Swinburne University and the Australian Psychology Society.

The study revealed that more than half (50.5 per cent) of Australians reported being lonely for at least a day in the previous week; 27.6 per cent felt lonely for three or more days. Nearly 30 per cent rarely or never felt they were part of a group of friends.

Interestingly, the same study revealed that married Australians and those aged over 65 are the least lonely.

“Australians over 65 years also report better physical and mental health, lower levels of social interaction anxiety, fewer depression symptoms and greater social interaction than younger Australians,” the study found.

To find out if this statistic rings true, YourLifeChoices conducted a Friday Flash Poll: Are you lonely?, which revealed that more than three-quarters of the survey respondents (76 per cent) are lonely, with just 22 per cent saying they never feel lonely.

Of those who do feel lonely, 39 per cent said they feel lonely ‘every now and then’, while 16 per cent feel alone ‘once every 2-3 days’, five per cent said, ‘once a day’ and three per cent said, ‘once a week’.

Sixteen per cent say they feel lonely ‘all the time’.

The majority of respondents (56 per cent) were women. Respondents were mostly aged between 60 and 79. Thirty-one per cent are married, 26 per cent are divorced, 11 per cent are single, 13 per cent are widows and six per cent are widowers. Three per cent are in a relationship but not married.

Unsurprisingly, loneliness hits those who have recently lost loved ones hardest.

“I’ve been a widower since November 2017 and after 48 years together I’m finding it very hard to cope and the tears come very easily with the smallest reminder or reference to my wife and marriage. I’ve searched for support groups in my area without success to date, they are few and too far away from me. I’ve since re-joined the workforce for a couple of hours a day as a Traffic Warden at school crossings. Having pass by chats with the kids and parent/s helps a little. I have no friends, and this makes the weekends even harder. I’ve had thoughts of ending it all but being a chicken doesn’t help. So I make do on a day to day basis,” wrote Billy.

Eight per cent of the poll respondents said they were full-time carers, while 15 per cent were part-time carers. Six per cent of carers said their duties contribute to their loneliness, while 11 per cent said their duties make them feel lonely sometimes.

One such carer, Mary*, offered her story about how caring for a loved one can be a lonely task.

“I read your article on loneliness for the elderly with interest. There is another situation though, that of loneliness in company, when one partner has Alzheimer’s. You are neither a couple nor a single so don’t fit in anywhere in a crowd. You are usually doing pretty well everything at home and when partner assists you are on edge that they do it properly and you can get tetchy, so you end up trying to do everything yourself in order not to hear your “crabby” self! Especially when the kids say, “Cool it mum, he can’t help it”. All very well but walk a mile in my shoes for months/years on end. You must learn all about finances – My Aged Care, Centrelink, car maintenance, income tax – taking unaccustomed responsibility just when you had planned to be relaxing in your waning years and travelling. Holidays would be a nightmare, so a day at the shopping mall while a carer takes charge is the highlight of the month, or maybe you can leave them for a few hours but then you worry or get a strange phone call and take an early train home. The family are all too far away to drop in for a cuppa. Every family’s situation is a bit different, but they seem to keep it to themselves simply because it is so hard to find the occasion to share personal situations. I am just discovering the help that is offered by the authorities and charities and I commend them in their understanding and support. I describe it as hubby going into hospital but his cousin coming home – it’s all different. Good luck to all those men and women dealing with this currently incurable disease.”

Loneliness has been found to be the root cause of further health issues and 21 per cent of those who feel lonely agree. Another 21 per cent think their loneliness ‘sometimes’ contributes to their health issues, while 18 per cent are unsure.

Loneliness is a silent scourge, and more than seven in 10 respondents think not enough is being done to highlight the plight of lonely older people. Almost half (45 per cent) aren’t even aware of the services available to help lonely people, while 37 per cent know they are there but don’t know how to find them.

One way to overcome loneliness, according to our members, is to volunteer.

“I have been widowed for 14 years and since retiring 6 years ago have been volunteering at an aged care facility (helping with the social activities). I don’t want to intrude on my children’s family lives so volunteering has given me a way of occupying myself and it is so appreciated; the staff appreciate the help and the residents love having interaction with us, too. It also makes me more appreciative of my own good health, plus my ability to put a smile on the faces of the residents makes my day worthwhile!” wrote Gammer.

While, for other members, having a positive attitude and being proactive helps.

“Smile at others and start up a conversation when appropriate. Use all your capabilities to enrich your life. Not everyone is mobile so look at what you have and can do rather than your limitations. Take the initiative and contact the family instead of waiting for them to reach out to you. Plan a holiday, shop online for birthdays and Christmas, write your memoirs or a novel or short story, create something, help others, and so on. Don’t wait for someone else to make you happy. Be proactive!” wrote Paddington.

Other members are quite happy in their solitude.

“I have lived alone since 2005 I travel OS on my own take road trips exercise and enjoy my own company. Years of caring for useless men and always being last in the family dynamic it is my time. I am liberated free independent and I never am lonely. It is insulting to me when people feel sorry for me. The man who has a friend who says she’s not lonely go to hell it’s not a facade. I feel sorry for women who married young and have spent their whole lives in a relationship bubble missing out on knowing themselves as a whole entity. I have two grown children and we are in full communication I work with elderly and people with disabilities who are an inspiration. So for all out there attached to the hip to another get out and really experience who you are! Because if you live long enough you will be alone,” wrote MJM.

The Government has pledged $10 million to tackle loneliness, which is admirable, but is it enough? Only 37 per cent of our members seem to think so, and a further 57 per cent are unsure. Only six per cent think it is enough.

“$10 million won’t go far, but maybe the government could set up a rooms somewhere where there is easy parking and a few facilities such as a nearby café and use the room for an ‘ideas, craft and skills exchange’. Come for a chat and a cuppa and teach or learn something new, no cost, or a small donation involved. You do not need to be a qualified teacher to pass on ideas or help someone with a problem. Different areas would most likely organise different activities for mornings or afternoons, these could range from physical exercise, dance, the many craft activities to book clubs, cooking and gardening ideas or cards, or simply a chat but always with time allowed for social interaction, both (all) sexes welcome. A note in with the council communications (please let it cover several council areas in larger towns and cities) would get to everyone in the areas involved,” wrote Mrs Hedgehog.

Nan Norma wants to take matters into her own hands (for which we applaud her!).

“Right now I am trying to persuade the council to continue funding me for the hire of a venue so I can keep running a seniors group every week, as I have for 14 yrs. Many of the women came to the group lonely and wanting to make friends. You don’t make friends playing Bingo or the pokies. Most seniors have limited funds to pay for outside entertainment,” she wrote.

She adds: “This is a problem for many groups. It is expensive to hire a suitable venue. If governments seriously want to do something to combat this problem then provide some funding for the hire of meeting places. Support transport to get people to these places. I’ve had many women wanting to come to meetings but unfortunately have no transport. This is really a bad situation.

“It would also help if those people willing to run a group were given some help and support. My success in running groups has only come from years of experience.”

Another member suggests that laughter could be the best remedy for loneliness.

“I wish we had a laughter club where I live in Orange, I think that would be great. I am 63 and have been widowed for 20 years. I have three children, work three days a week in a job I love, catch up for a cuppa with friends and my family three times a week, have a gorgeous dog that makes me take him for big walks and I still occasionally feel alone,” wrote libsareliars.

Some countries take loneliness seriously. The UK has appointed a Minister for Loneliness and Victorian Upper House Minister Fiona Patten says loneliness has reached the point of government intervention, suggesting Australia also appoint a minister for loneliness.

Do you think this would work? Are you surprised at how many older people feel lonely? What types of activities, groups or services do you think could be funded to help tackle loneliness?

If you are feeling lonely, why not try one of the amazing programs below:

*not her real name

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    COMMENTS

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    leek
    3rd Jun 2019
    10:23am
    My grandmother lived to be 105 & 11 months. She only had 1 son and there is only my brother and me. She said the worst part of getting old is that she was outliving everybody. Fortunately she had lots of nieces and nephews from her siblings. But her friends were all dying off. I learnt from her the secret of long life- have something to look forward to every day when you wake up. The something might only take you 10 minutes to do. Might be a TV show. but something. I live my life by that, I sort of always have anyhow. No excuses for people to be lonely, there are so so many free things on, so many books to read, Nowdays so so many shows streaming somehwere. You don't have to be rich to keep busy.
    Arvo
    3rd Jun 2019
    11:44am
    It's the choices that people make.
    jackie
    3rd Jun 2019
    12:56pm
    leek, your grandmother sounded like an inspiring lady that enjoyed every stage of her life.

    There are so many things to enjoy in life.
    CountryCatkin
    3rd Jun 2019
    11:51am
    Good on you leek. I live alone but I’m never lonely. I enjoy my own company but I also have many friends who care about me (and vice versa) and one wonderful sibling who also helps in countless loving ways, although living some distance away. I keep busy and hold several positions within the community. Caring for various loved pets is a wonderful way of keeping busy. I also enjoy my pay TV with its variety of interesting shows, many so unlike some of the drivel on the free to air channels. I enjoy using modern technology, reading and music. Even when my declining physical fitness pulls me back, I still enjoy each day and the weeks fly by. Life is what you make it, combined with a positive mindset.
    Charlie
    3rd Jun 2019
    11:52am
    Terrible situation. Some old friends die. Some are crippled with pain disease or dementia that makes them different kinds of people.
    In the search for friends on the internet there are scammers everywhere. Some come knocking on the door.
    All the regular time consuming activities change, as a different life style begins to take hold.
    Everything has to be reinvented to have meaningful goals and friends to admire what you have done.
    Goals don't have to be big achievements, the first little step for the day makes a person stronger to take the next step.
    Snacking and watching tv is not a good way to spend the day if a person can get around a bit.
    A written plan for the day drafted at a more optimistic time, is a good way to beat brain fog.
    jackie
    3rd Jun 2019
    12:52pm
    Charlie, cheer up. Life is a gift and lives in the present.

    You are free to do want you to want. Admire yourself because you are what matters.

    For those of us that are immobile, there are still many activities to get lost in.

    Reading, writing, learning new software programs, family history searches, Netflix, Catchup tv and etc.

    Adapting to change instead of fighting it is the secret to a long and happy life.
    CountryCatkin
    3rd Jun 2019
    2:05pm
    Oh my goodness. Charlie, we all go through these tough times, both in ourselves and with family and friends. No one is immune from them. We can't change things, but we can be grateful for what good things we have. While some parts of your comments are positive, please try not to dwell on the negatives.
    I have had some 10 surgical procedures in 18 years, but have always been glad that I could. Had I been in some other countries, I may not be present to write this answer.
    Read the positive earlier comments people have submitted and try to 'always look on the bright side of life'!
    Kaye Fallick
    3rd Jun 2019
    3:24pm
    Hi Charlie, I think your idea of a written plan (maybe written day before) is a super good one. thanks for sharing - and also agree re reinvention - hard to do, but something that is necessary for all of us at some point. warmest, Kaye
    Nan Norma
    3rd Jun 2019
    1:51pm
    I can relate to 'Mary's' story as my husband has Alzheimer’s too. My children are full of suggestions of what I should do, but you have to live it to know what it like. The person you have lived with for fifty years is slowly disappearing. You have to make the decisions for the two of you.
    Another problem that people don't think of is that tradesmen, telephone company etc, usually refer to the male of the house and not the female for any instructions. This can be a problem. Your husband is here - but he's not here, and won't have a clue what they are talking about. This makes me very angry.
    Ted Wards
    3rd Jun 2019
    2:44pm
    The Government has pledged $10 million to tackle loneliness, which is admirable, but is it enough? Only 37 per cent of our members seem to think so, and a further 57 per cent are unsure. Only six per cent think it is enough.

    First of all, you need to understand that the Government's social support program has been around since 1985 under the HACC program and now there is more money than ever before to support social support. In this years budget the CHSP program was extended until June 30, 2022, it was supposed to end on 20 June 2015. A major part of this program is social support. Here's the thing, just because you don't know about it, doesn't mean it doesn't exist. I've spent at least 30 years of my working life in this area of social support. What the person or their family needs to understand is that there are many, many programs and centres who do address this issue. Go to your local community centre, day care centre, neighbourhood centre or whatever you want to call them. All exist for social support. We have weekly trips three times a week for $25 including morning tea and lunch yet we rarely get more than 10 people. I get so tired of this endless bashing about no social support. The truth is there are more government funded social support services around Australia than any other kind of aged care service. When you ring up My Aged Care, part of the assessment they do is for your social needs. Please, please, please talk about what your needs are for company and friendship. Let's stop this nonsense, there is plenty of support there, you have to recognise you need it, and where it is.
    Ted Wards
    3rd Jun 2019
    2:48pm
    For more information https://www.myagedcare.gov.au/help-home/social-support-and-activities
    Nan Norma
    3rd Jun 2019
    3:58pm
    Ted, I have run a very successful seniors friendship group for the past 14 years. Now the council has ceased funding for the hire of the room. Yet we have supported so many charities in our local area.
    gerry
    3rd Jun 2019
    3:27pm
    Years ago I belonged to singles clubs ,I met quite a few nice women but discovered that most of them had layabout sons who had stayed with their mother because she was a better "touch " than the father
    I met many 50 yr old women who no way were going to gel with a man her age .If she was going to gel at all it would be with a man much younger than herself not another smelly, wheezing ,boozy ole man like the last one
    Consequence was that I must have known all the singles in Brisbane but only knew one couple that got married and they broke up later
    The thing is that in adolescence one can fall in love with nearly every teenager in the street,That's called in love but if you can survive into later life that is called love and more genuine
    I would love to find a soulmate,,but in kindness to her I don't try
    gerry
    3rd Jun 2019
    3:27pm
    Years ago I belonged to singles clubs ,I met quite a few nice women but discovered that most of them had layabout sons who had stayed with their mother because she was a better "touch " than the father
    I met many 50 yr old women who no way were going to gel with a man her age .If she was going to gel at all it would be with a man much younger than herself not another smelly, wheezing ,boozy ole man like the last one
    Consequence was that I must have known all the singles in Brisbane but only knew one couple that got married and they broke up later
    The thing is that in adolescence one can fall in love with nearly every teenager in the street,That's called in love but if you can survive into later life that is called love and more genuine
    I would love to find a soulmate,,but in kindness to her I don't try
    THE FORGOTTEN
    3rd Jun 2019
    5:05pm
    I have lived on my own for over 10 years after my ex walked out with the kids,who went to Uni 300 kms away.
    I have tried to find a new partner via dating sites but all have turned out to be looking for a free ride.Being so far from a Capital city has made it more difficult. I've tried local clubs. but have found that the internal ''politics'' make an anti social environment. I don't know where else to turn.
    gerry
    3rd Jun 2019
    5:48pm
    I,ve been married 4 times
    The first was my childhood sweetheart ,but we became very successful and were sending 3 kids to the best schools in the country,They got very snobby and my wife was involved with the schools...I had some very nasty inlaws all living off of me.until a girl in my bank told me what they were up to behind my back I blew up and walked away leaving my farm to my son to run,And started a very successful liquor business with the girl
    We came to OZ but after 3years of marriage she wanted to go back to London,She got into the ffutures market and was making 10s of thousands a night on the Cigao market


    I missed Australia so we broke up but 3 years later she came looking for me and we got together again but only or 5 months,We were poles apert,,She liked lots of classy friends and socialising every Sunday afternoon wheras I liked sailing and backpacking we used to do all the time

    I married a Filipina because all my friends were doing it and realised straight away that we really had nothing in common,She was very loyal as Filipinas go ,I brought her to OZ and she worked 2 jobs but was sending all the money home but I was paying all the tax so I gave her the house and car and we separated ,,,she got the treasured thing the citizenship that they were all after and I got the kick of walking around with a beautiful girl on my arm for three years ha ha

    Now am completely un materialistic and I find all the women want to go on cruises and visit restaurants,,And the only one I ever knew didn't want to do was my first wife when I met her She really liked basic things
    gerry
    3rd Jun 2019
    5:48pm
    I,ve been married 4 times
    The first was my childhood sweetheart ,but we became very successful and were sending 3 kids to the best schools in the country,They got very snobby and my wife was involved with the schools...I had some very nasty inlaws all living off of me.until a girl in my bank told me what they were up to behind my back I blew up and walked away leaving my farm to my son to run,And started a very successful liquor business with the girl
    We came to OZ but after 3years of marriage she wanted to go back to London,She got into the ffutures market and was making 10s of thousands a night on the Cigao market


    I missed Australia so we broke up but 3 years later she came looking for me and we got together again but only or 5 months,We were poles apert,,She liked lots of classy friends and socialising every Sunday afternoon wheras I liked sailing and backpacking we used to do all the time

    I married a Filipina because all my friends were doing it and realised straight away that we really had nothing in common,She was very loyal as Filipinas go ,I brought her to OZ and she worked 2 jobs but was sending all the money home but I was paying all the tax so I gave her the house and car and we separated ,,,she got the treasured thing the citizenship that they were all after and I got the kick of walking around with a beautiful girl on my arm for three years ha ha

    Now am completely un materialistic and I find all the women want to go on cruises and visit restaurants,,And the only one I ever knew didn't want to do was my first wife when I met her She really liked basic things
    Jaz
    5th Jun 2019
    2:47pm
    I live alone (+ cat) and attend a day club on Wednesdays run through RSL Sub branch in their hall. It is staffed by volunteers and goes from 9.30am to around 1pm different places can contribute food and we pay $5 & get morning tea & lunch. sometimes a speaker occasionally entertainment and once a month an outing. It is a great day and there is a bus pickup for those without transport (bus driver volunteer) and bus supplied by RSL.