TWO Sussex districts are among the loneliest places in Britain in which to live if you are elderly, new research has revealed.
The Rother district, encompassing Battle, Bexhill and Rye, was found to be the third worst, with Arun, covering Littlehampton, Arundel and Bognor, ninth in the list.
The survey of 2,500 respondents found that more than half did not know their neighbours well enough to hold a conversation, with only one in five having regular contact with older people.
They valued receiving knowledge as equally, if not more, important than receiving task-based help.
Friends Of The Elderly, a charity aiming to tackle loneliness, has published the report to coincide with a campaign to tackle the issue.
One of the report’s key findings was its estimation that more than five million older people across the UK are lonely – 8% of the total population and 35% of those over 60.
In the South East, it found that more than a third (38.3%) have irregular or no contact with older people. The figure stood at 31.1% in Brighton and Hove. In East Sussex, it revealed there are 21,150 lonely men and 38,435 lonely women.
In West Sussex, 29,290 and 53,392 respectively were found to be lonely.
But how do you define loneliness?
The research states: “A person can be isolated yet not feel lonely and, conversely, we can still feel lonely in the midst of a crowd. Isolation can sometimes be glorious, but loneliness is never any fun.”
Friends Of The Elderly is more concerned about “older old people” than those in their mid-to-late 60s.
The organisation says: “The whole ‘age-positive’ discourse sits uncomfortably with the fact that older old age still happens. Increasing financial hardship, impairment, bereavement, declining life satisfaction, reduced social activity and a rising risk of being lonely may be appearing later in life, but they have not been eliminated from the lives of older people.”
The charity said severe loneliness is common among people aged over 75 and that to avoid a lonelier future as the population of Britain ages, we need to focus on the needs of the “older old”.
We need to be less focused on resisting or denying ageing and learn to accept and embrace it.
Although voiced as a source of bewilderment for some, technology, both in a social and personal sense, could ease loneliness for many people as they progress into older age.
The proportion of over-65s who use the internet at home is set to rise to 71% in 2020 and 85–90% by 2030 as costs fall and increasingly user-friendly devices and software are released, according to the report.
It does state that, even by 2030, 10% of older people still won’t be using the internet, risking “severe, intensified exclusion from society”.
It states that we could see a better connected, more urban, mobile and sociable older population, connecting not only to people but also to things.
However, it warns: “A less isolated and more connected society doesn’t necessarily mean a less lonely one.”
The report illustrates that the number of over-65s using the internet was 18% in 2007 but had shot up to 41% by 2012.
According to Ofcom, mobile phone ownership is now rising fast among those over 65: in 2014, 61% of over-75s use a mobile phone. This is expected to rise to 76% by 2020.
By 2030, mobile phone usage up to age 75 will be near-universal, with about 90% of over-75s using one.
The report highlights the correlation between loneliness and wealth, or a lack of it.
It states that in the years to 2030, wealth disparity will continue to grow and the current level of pensions will be unsustainable.
It states: “Poverty is an important predictor of loneliness and poorer older people tend to be disadvantaged in multiple ways, ie, having lower levels of mobility and less access to technology and leisure activities.”
The reports adds that services for reducing loneliness must be accessible, cheap and locally delivered.
Although not limited to any one group, the baby-boomer generation is the next group of people who are being confronted by the relentless march into old age.
The research warns that the post-war “mini-baby-boomers” (a spike in births in the years 1946 to 1948) will move into a new phase. It states that the 2020s is the decade in which more people will be in their late 70s and older as this historic spike in births moves through the age groups.
It states: “Remembering that it is this age group that is especially vulnerable to loneliness, we have just a few years to prepare: from 2017 onwards, the 75-plus population really starts to grow quickly.”
Conversely, the report also states that there will be a fall in total numbers of 65 to 68-year-olds in Britain.
At least awareness of loneliness is coming more to the forefront nowadays, thanks to a cluster of campaigns aimed at highlighting the issue.
Age UK is Britain’s largest charity working with older people but there are other organisations, including the Campaign To End Loneliness and Independent Age.
Only last week, Age UK estimated that a third of elderly people who struggle with basic tasks such as washing and dressing are being left to fend for themselves.
The charity believes almost 900,000 older people in England and Wales with care needs receive no support, either from their local council or via relatives.
It also said the figure represented a rise of 9% on the previous estimate two years ago and that the problem could be higher as the estimate only included those aged between 65 and 90.
While the Age UK figures focus on those with care needs, the research by Friends Of The Elderly looks at the wider picture of those who are more independent but perhaps do not know how to tackle loneliness.
Steve Allen, chief executive of Friends of the Elderly, said: “We already know that loneliness is a critical issue, but our report shows just how vital it is for us to take action now.
“We believe loneliness can be overcome with relatively simple interventions.
“By encouraging everyone to connect with their older neighbours, we can empower young and old to connect better within their communities.”
Friends Of The Elderly has launched its Be A Friend campaign to pull communities together to confront loneliness.
Visit www.beafriendtoday.org.uk for more information or call 0207 730 8263.
Letters on loneliness
During the past year, The Argus has received many letters from readers about loneliness and how to combat it.
Arthur Shopland, from Haywards Heath, wrote to us on August 7, 2013, to extol the virtues of the internet.
He said: “I am so grateful that my middle-aged children supplied a redundant computer and print machine.
“I reluctantly let them connect me to the internet. There is so much on the internet that loneliness and boredom are instantly banished.
“People coming up to retirement will be familiar with the ‘net’.
“There is a gap, though, and many current pensioners need persuading to have a computer and taught the delights of being connected to the outside world.”
Jean Wickham, from Brighton, wrote to us on December 4 last year, addressing the issue of bereavement.
She said: “I lost my husband seven years ago.
“The core of your life is gone, friends stop phoning and invitations become rare.
“How to help? Stop blanking us; a hello and a smile goes a long way. You can be lonely in a crowd ... there are people around who understand.”
On April 19 this year, Victor Roman, from Brighton, had a letter published that took a drier approach to being lonely.
He said: “Every type of media is telling us to eat seven and more of something, take these pills, jump, run, hop or drink a foul-tasting green fluid and you’ll live so much longer.
“For what? To become invisible in public? Ignored, isolated, lonely and alone because caring friends have long gone? Or perhaps abused in a care home?
“No, thank heavens for gin and tonic!”
Where to seek advice
In response to Rother being the third loneliest area in which to live in Britain, East Sussex County Council said the biggest challenge it faces is identifying those people who are socially isolated.
An ESCC spokesman said: “There are many services that have a direct or indirect impact on reducing loneliness and social isolation and these range from attending a day service or reminiscence session to taking part in activities at residential care homes.
“The council provides significant funding to voluntary organisations and groups to assist in providing services that support vulnerable people in the community and serve to reduce social isolation.”
Despite being the ninth loneliest place in the UK, Arun District runs a community transport service for shopping, leisure trips and medical appointments. Call 01903 723584 for details.
Age UK runs two centres for the over-50s in The Laburnum Centre in Bognor and The Tamarisk Centre in Littlehampton. Each runs activities and a cafe. Call the Littlehampton centre on 01903 730007 and the Bognor centre on 01243 827185 for prices and details.
In addition, as part of Arun’s Wellbeing Team, an advisor is in place for older people and a physical activities co-ordinator can get people involved in existing groups.
Arun District Council also runs a Telecare service. A spokeswoman said: “While this isn’t fundamentally a service to stop isolation, it can be a lifeline for older people.”
As well as services, there are a range of events taking place in Sussex in September and October to mark Older People’s Day on October 1.
To find out more, visit www.olderpeoplesday.co.uk or request a booklet at your local library.
On June 16, 2008, Rupert Maher’s life changed forever.
His wife of 67 years, Maisie Marjory Maher, passed away.
Mr Maher, 89, of Old Shoreham Road in Hove, said the past six years have, at times, been terrible for him.
He said: “It is a different world. It is something you never get over.
“I have been to the cemetery every day.
“She was a wonderful, brilliant woman.
“I kiss a picture of her on the wall whenever I go out.
“We had a lot of friends. I don’t go out much now, as the places we used to go to bring back bad memories.
“It brings back tears. Even six years on it doesn’t go away.
“I couldn’t socialise with other couples – it feels like cheating.”
Despite the emotional turmoil of losing his wife, Mr Maher has an outlet.
When he was at school in the late 1930s he was nominated to go to art college in Brighton.
His artistry is a skill he has kept going to this day. He gives his paintings and drawings away.
He said: “I am fortunate that I can do a lot of drawing and I’m told I’m a great artist. It keeps me busy.
“I go shopping every day and everybody knows me.
“Life can be quite hard sometimes but I am very lucky in that respect.”
His daughter lives in the same house on the floor below and he has two grandchildren.
His advice for others is to try to keep the friends you have while you can and to take up a hobby.