What causes loneliness?

Most people will feel lonely in their lives. It’s a personal experience that will thankfully pass for most people. But for a growing number of people, particularly those in later life, loneliness can define their lives and have a huge impact on their wellbeing.

What causes loneliness?

We feel lonely when we don’t have strong social relationships or are unhappy with the ones we have. Factors include:

  • Social networks – living alone, being widowed or divorced, a lack of contact with friends or family
  • Health – poor health, limited mobility, social care needs
  • Individual characteristics – age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, low income, retirement
  • Neighbourhood characteristics – local amenities, area reputation, neighbourliness

Loneliness is associated with depression, sleep problems, impaired cognitive health, heightened vascular resistance, hypertension, psychological stress and mental health problems.

What are the signs?

There are 1.2 million chronically lonely older people in the UK. It’s likely we all know or care about someone who feels lonely. It’s not always easy to spot the signs of loneliness, some clues could be:

  • Having a significant change in their routine (for example getting up a lot later)
  • Neglecting their appearance or personal hygiene
  • Complaining of feeling worthless
  • Not eating properly

You should also consider if someone has had a change in circumstances that could have caused their loneliness:

  • Losing a loved one
  • Moving away from friends and family
  • Losing the social contact and enjoyment they used to get from work
  • Experiencing health problems

As loneliness is such a deeply personal experience, you may spot signs they are lonely before the person you care about does or before they can talk about it. It’s also important to remember that someone can still feel lonely despite being surrounded by friends and family.

Find out more about the help you can get at Age UK

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