A recent study undertaken by researchers from the University of Lincoln and Sheffield Hallam University has revealed that many people over the age of 85 suffer from isolation. With an increasingly ageing population, this is a worrying statistic that needs urgent attention.
Over 10,000 people over the age of 65 were surveyed as part of the study carried out by university social policy researchers. Findings revealed that 16% of people over the age of 85 have problems accessing vital services such as healthcare or shopping for food. The study found that women were more likely to have trouble accessing these services than men. Crucially, more than half of those over 85 years old don't go out on a social basis, even if they're still living with their partner. This paints a fairly bleak picture, suggesting that the very elderly are often confined to their homes. The study also found that declining health wasn't the defining factor for over 85s experiencing social exclusion. Even when health factors were taken into account, this group were still at increased risk of social isolation.
Interestingly, this study highlighted that there is a difference between those who are between the ages of 65 to 84 and those over the age of 85. The findings found that the younger old people in the 65- to 84-year-old age group didn't experience isolation to the same degree as those older than them. Just 4% of people within this younger category found it difficult to access food shops and healthcare, and 17% in this group suffered from social exclusion.
The findings from this research suggest that lumping the elderly into one group makes little sense, as there is a definite distinction between the young old and the older old. Making this distinction will become more important than ever as we live longer and ageing populations increase. In particular, the Office for National Statistics estimates that by 2039 there could be 3.2 million people in the UK over the age of 85.
This study highlights the pressing need to make sure that the oldest of our populations are not left to fend for themselves in isolation. Experts are already aware that lack of social contact can have a negative impact on physical and mental health of anyone of any age, but when this is coupled with the fact that the very elderly can't get out easily to fulfil basic tasks such as buying food or seeing the doctor, this can put this vulnerable groups at greater risk of health problems. In order to tackle this pertinent issue, but also to ensure that older people can continue to live as independently as possible, a number of measures should be put in place to ensure these people can get out and about, whether to access vital services or socially. The use of telecare services and technology such as Skype, pendant alarms for the elderly and easier access to online shopping and banking for the elderly are effective measures that may help the situation. Certainly, assistive telecare services and technology are becoming common, with increasing options to choose from, ensuring independent living is still a possibility.