Pals cure loneliness

2 Mar 2016

Having friends and sharing their company is important to everyone and can make a real difference to the wellbeing of seniors

Having friends and sharing their company is important to everyone and can make a real difference to the wellbeing of seniors

Feeling lonely is a normal human emotion and is simply a sign of wanting contact with people. It can often happen because of external circumstances, such as loss of a loved one. Loneliness however is a bigger problem than simply an emotional experience. Research shows that loneliness and social isolation can be harmful to our health.

It can be felt by people of all ages but, as we get older, risk factors that might lead to loneliness begin to increase and converge.

Such risk factors include (but are not limited to): Personal: Poor health; sensory loss; loss of mobility; lower income; bereavement; retirement; becoming a carer and other changes(e.g. giving up driving) and, in the Wider Society: Lack of public transport; physical environment ( public toilets or benches); housing; fear of crime; high population turnover; demographics and technological changes.

The impact of loneliness can be devastating and costly – with consequences comparable to smoking and obesity. Loneliness also reduces the speed with which older people recover from illnesses. The low levels of mood and/or mild depression that result from isolation and loneliness are significant contributors to patients not taking an interest in their care, because they feel no-one else is interested in them.

Older people who arrive in hospital usually spend longer in hospital, and that’s not ideal for them; that is not where they do well. They often have protracted stays, occupying acute facilities when they don’t have an acute medical problem, they really have a social care problem.

Loneliness is a silent killer for countless people in the Northern Territory. It’s bad for our health, bad for our society and bad for our future as a species. But where is the urgency to face it down? We do not want to hear the words, “If you could catch loneliness then we’d do something about it.”

The public and the media have now awoken to the dangers of loneliness. Politicians and policymakers must now play catch up. Before it’s too late.



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