One in six people in England over the age of 50 are socially isolated, play little part in the cultural or civic life of their society and have abandoned socially-oriented hobbies, according to a sobering new study into our ageing society.
Single men were found are the group most likely group to live a solitary, cut-off life after 50, while the poorer someone is, the more likely they are to lose touch with their social network in old age.
The findings come in the latest report of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA), an extensive, long-term investigation into the effects of ageing on the population’s economic, social and psychological life. The study, which is led by researchers at University College London (UCL), has followed 10,000 participants since 2002.
Analysing the impact ageing has on individuals social engagement, researchers found that social isolation is more common in rural areas and that poor access to transport links was a major factor in cutting off older people. Decreased participation in leisure activities was another cause of isolation – particularly among women.
The report also revealed an extraordinary link between enjoyment of life in younger years, and a healthy, social old age. Participants who said they were enjoying life when surveyed ten years ago were not only more likely to still be alive ten years later, but had a lesser chance of developing serious illnesses, disabilities and even reduced walking speeds. Three times as many people in the “lower enjoyment” group of people surveyed ten years ago, had died in the intervening years, than people in the “greater enjoyment” group.
The groundbreaking study is a joint project between UCL, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, NatCen Social Research and the University of Manchester.