Councils and charities should tackle loneliness by mapping those who are most isolated, a study has suggested. / Getty

Being lonely can have a negative impact on person's health

Maps pinpointing where the country’s loneliest people might live must be used to help focus services to those who are most isolated, according to a new report.

The Campaign to End Loneliness, which compiled the report with the University of Kent, warned as it released the document that loneliness and isolation are as harmful to our long-term health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It can also put people at risk of developing dementia, high blood pressure and depression.

As many as ten per cent of the older population all or most of the time, according to the charity. And people experiencing severe loneliness may in turn put a strain on the NHS and loved ones, as they are more likely to visit their GP more often, and enter residential care earlier.

To help tackle the issue, charities and local services should use existing data to compile so-called 'loneliness maps' which predict where their most lonely resident live, in order to syphon limited resources to the people most in need.

The method is already being used in local authorities including Gloucestershire County Council, which has devised a map of factors which could cause loneliness.

Households with just one occupant, a head of a household aged 65 or above, being situation in a low income area, and not owning a car are among the indicators.

 

Laura Alcock-Ferguson, Director for the Campaign to End Loneliness, said that loneliness and isolation is a serious public health issue.

"Finding people who are experiencing loneliness can be challenging, as they are often also some of the most hidden people in our communities. However, it is encouraging that, across the country, there are excellent examples of councils that are employing different strategies to identify residents most at risk of loneliness.

"If local councils and services do not act now to find the people experiencing severe loneliness, we are likely to see the consequences in our hospitals and social care services."

Co-author of the report, Dr Hannah J. Swift at the University of Kent said: “Our research has identified a number strategies that can help identify where people may be at risk of experiencing loneliness and it also highlights approaches organisations can take for promoting services to a community of older people who experiences circumstances that put them at risk of loneliness.

"In particular we found that addressing loneliness requires better understanding of, and engagement with, local communities as well as better communication, collaboration and cooperation between services if they are to identify, reach and support the most lonely older people."

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