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Self Care Week 2015 – Preventing Loneliness and Social Isolation

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Self Care Week takes place between the 16th – 22nd November 2015 and has the theme ‘Self Care for Life.’ Self Care Week is a yearly campaign to raise awareness about the benefits of self care and what people can do to take better care of their own health and well being. The point of the campaign is to promote and encourage more self care across communities, families and generations.

Perhaps not surprisingly, social isolation and loneliness impact on quality of life and wellbeing, with demonstrable negative health effects and increasing the use of health and social care services. According to the SCIE report, being lonely has a significant and lasting effect on blood pressure, with lonely individuals having higher blood pressure than their less lonely peers. Such an effect has been found to be independent of age, gender, race, cardiovascular risk factors (including smoking), medications, health conditions and the effects of depressive symptoms. Loneliness is also associated with depression (either as a cause or a consequence) and higher rates of mortality. A recent meta-analysis found that people with stronger social relationships had a 50 per cent increased likelihood of survival than those with weaker social relationships.

Deafblindness is associated with a number of comorbidities. Dementia (Social Care Institute for Excellence website 2015), heart disease, arthritis, falls (Crewes and Campbell, 2004) frequently occur alongside deafblindness.

SCIE (2007) states that deafblindness in older people increases “depressive symptoms [which]… can lead to illness”. Deafblind older people’s risk of depression is 2.7 times as high as that of their peers (identified by Horowitz 2000).   This finding echoes a survey of our Deafblind UK members in 2005 (Bodsworth et al 2011) – as one member put it, deafblind people have “the same everyday problems as the wider world but they are compounded/multiplied by deafblindness’’.

Loneliness and social isolation are harmful to our health: research shows that lacking social connections is as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day (Holt-Lunstad, 2010). Social networks and friendships not only have an impact on reducing the risk of mortality or developing certain diseases, but they also help individuals to recover when they do fall ill (Marmot, 2010).

The Campaign to End Loneliness outline their main research into the impact of loneliness on our physical and mental health and wellbeing.

Loneliness and physical health
The effect of loneliness and isolation on mortality exceeds the impact of well-known risk factors such as obesity, and has a similar influence as cigarette smoking (Holt-Lunstad, 2010)
Loneliness increases the risk of high blood pressure (Hawkley et al, 2010)
Lonely individuals are also at higher risk of the onset of disability (Lund et al, 2010)

Loneliness and mental health
Loneliness puts individuals at greater risk of cognitive decline (James et al, 2011)
One study concludes lonely people have a 64% increased chance of developing clinical dementia (Holwerda et al, 2012)
Lonely individuals are more prone to depression (Cacioppo et al, 2006) and (Green et al, 1992)
Loneliness and low social interaction are predictive of suicide in older age (O’Connell et al, 2004)

Maintaining independence
Academic research is clear that preventing and alleviating loneliness is vital to enabling older people to remain as independent as possible. Lonely individuals are more likely to:
Visit their GP, have higher use of medication, higher incidence of falls and increased risk factors for long term care (Cohen, 2006)
Undergo early entry into residential or nursing care (Russell et al, 1997)
Use accident and emergency services independent of chronic illness. (Geller, Janson, McGovern and Valdini, 1999)

Campaign to end loneliness
The Campaign to End Loneliness has recently published a report on the correlation between loneliness and higher incidence of hospital admissions, especially for older people; read it here.

They maintain that ‘we need to get to the bottom of why people are returning time and time again to their GP and to A+E. Local authorities place heavy emphasis on the primary prevention of poor health – such as smoking cessation, housing, and ‘winter preparedness’ to reduce excess winter deaths.  We strongly advocate that services to prevent or alleviate loneliness and isolation should be invested in as part of a primary prevention program to maintain independence in older age for longer and ensure everyone has the connections they need in later life’.

It is through campaigns such as Self-Care Week that we can continue to raise awareness around the hidden costs of medical care and support.