Loneliness is a major health challenge, AGE members say

COVID-19 containment measures have resulted in further social isolation for many people and increased feelings of loneliness. While the easing of measures is allowing to recover social interaction, AGE member organisations remain mobilised to combat loneliness that affected many older people already before the pandemic.

3 in 4 Belgians aged 65 years and over experience feelings of loneliness, according to a recent Sciensano Survey. Feeling lonely hurts and requires time to recover. On the contrary a Malteser study report that the healthier and more sociable are Germans over 75, the happier they are.

old-man-with-stick-mask-medium-shot-VlaamseOuderenraad “Loneliness is THE new disease of civilization, which has been significantly exacerbated by the pandemic. Loneliness hurts, it makes you mentally and physically sick and it can affect all generations. If we want to strengthen social cohesion and intergenerational solidarity, we must fight loneliness effectively!” said Dr. Kostelka, president of AGE Austrian member PVÖ.

Recovery is possible

Like other diseases, interventions are possible. Beyond helplines, AGE members are setting in place innovative courses and initiatives to provide support to lonely older people.

  • In Finland, the Pensioners’ Federation Eläkeliito provides support for continuing life after a challenging life situation. Courses such as Suddenly alone® offer the opportunity to meet others in the same life situation and exchange mutual experience under the guidance of experienced professionals.
  • In Portugal, Homeshare runs ‘Lar no Lar’, a co-habitation service that pairs older people living alone with like-minded younger people. Participants keep each other’s company, and exchange daily services.
  • In Spain, the Spanish Confederation of Older People’s Organisations CEOMA organizes webinars teaching how to use technological tools and remain in virtual contact with family and friends as part of the ‘No to Loneliness’ programme.

Policies must address loneliness

Various public initiatives are also on the table to tackle isolation and loneliness.

  • Photo-by-Andrea-Piacquadio-Pexels-1 In Austria, the government announced a ‘pact against loneliness’; the older people’s association PVÖ called on Federal Chancellor Kurz to organise a ‘summit against loneliness’ and follow-up the announcement of the pact with concrete measures as soon as possible.
  • In Belgium, the Flemish Elderly Council Vlaamse Ouderenraad has collected recommendations to feed into a new regional plan tackling loneliness for 2021-2024. More recently, they have also shared their analysis of the loneliness plan of the Flemish Government and a list of 7 recommendations for policy makers.
  • In Denmark, Ældre Sagen delivered six proposals to preserve Danes’ mental health and wellbeing. Among their recommendation is a national loneliness strategy to set a common direction and goals for combating and preventing loneliness and dissatisfaction in Denmark.
  • In France, members of AGE will follow the new strategic committee recently established by the government to combat isolation of older people.

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External Resources

This policy brief from the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) outlines the determinants and prevalence of mental health...

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