Loneliness is a distressing subjective psychological experience that may arise when an individual perceives a discrepancy in the quantity and quality of their social relationships. (It is possible for some to feel ‘alone in a room full of people’). Social isolation is the objective absence of social relationships and connectedness. Individuals experiencing social isolation may require practical help and resources (e.g. transport) whereas those experiencing loneliness may benefit from more social support and extended social networks.
People of all ages and circumstance are susceptible to loneliness and social isolation but older adults may be more vulnerable due to various age related changes or decline in health, mobility and social contacts or activities. 10% of UK adults aged 65 years and over are reported as feeling lonely all of the time and 40% name television as their primary source of company. Other risk factors include having cognitive or sensory impairment(s), being an older carer, having little or no contact with neighbours and living alone. Loneliness and isolation carry various health consequences (biological dysfunctions, psychological upset or behavioural issues) and individuals experiencing loneliness may develop negative habits such as excessive smoking, over eating and alcohol dependency. Many lonely people experience high blood pressure, sleep problems, anxiety, depression and cognitive decline and individuals who are lonely are 64% more likely to develop dementia than individuals who are not.
Noted strategies in tackling loneliness and isolation include improving social skills, enhancing social support, increasing opportunities for social interaction, and addressing poorly adaptive social cognition. But for those hard-to-reach individuals, who may feel discouraged in actively seeking support due to the stigma associated with loneliness and social isolation or who may be unaware of the services and support available to them, creative, innovative solutions are required. This challenge is an exciting opportunity to apply your skills and design for this highly impactful social issue.
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