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05.12.16

NICE urges collaborative working to prevent loneliness in older people

Reducing older people’s loneliness can help prevent physical and mental health problems, health watchdog NICE has said in a new standard.

NICE recommended that healthcare professionals, councils, housing organisations and charities should identify older people who are at risk of a decline in their independence and mental wellbeing, and ensure social and physical activities are in place for them.

Factors that increase older people’s risk of a decline include poor health, being over 80, unemployment, and suffering divorce or the death of a partner.

Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive of NICE, said: “Everyone is affected differently by ageing and whilst many older people can remain independent we need to do more to help those who can’t.

“There is no one-size-fits-all approach to promote and protect the mental wellbeing and independence of older people.”

Recommended activities included volunteering and befriending programmes, dancing, swimming, art classes and choirs.

Professor Carolyn Chew-Graham, GP Principal in Manchester, professor of general practice research at Keele University and a member of the quality standard advisory committee at NICE, said: “As a GP it is often difficult to identify older people at risk as you won’t necessarily know if they’ve had a bereavement or lost a job.”

She also warned that it was difficult for GPs to keep track of the activities in their local area, and added that some older people do maintain their health despite not socialising.

In 2013, the Campaign to End Loneliness produced research suggesting that three million older people are lonely, and between one and five people a day visit their GP surgery simply because they are lonely.

The Royal College of General Practitioners and British Geriatric Society recently produced a joint report arguing that GPs and geriatricians should work together more closely to help older people with frailty.

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