Minister warns over negative health effects from loneliness

2016 Census showed almost 400,000 people in Ireland live alone

‘Loneliness is a problem which faces too many of our people, and in particular older people,’ said Minister of State Sean Kyne. Photograph: Alan Betson

‘Loneliness is a problem which faces too many of our people, and in particular older people,’ said Minister of State Sean Kyne. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Loneliness was as bad for a person’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It meant sufferers were more likely to suffer dementia, heart disease and depression and was likely to increase the risk of death by over 25 per cent.

So said Minister of State for the Department of Rural and Community Development Seán Kyne on Thursday.

Speaking at a seminar in Dublin hosted by Alone, the agency which helps older people, he was quoting from studies by the Centre for Cognitive and Social Nuuroscience at the University of Chicago.

“When faced with the research, with the devastating and deeply-troubling consequences of loneliness”, it was no exaggeration to say the work of Alone and the different organisations which form the Befriending Network of Ireland was “life-saving”, he said.

The work of over 4,000 volunteers involved was “something that everyone here should be immensely proud of,” he continued. The trend for almost every country was “that loneliness is experienced in later life”.

“The good news for us in Ireland is that the levels of loneliness were quite low” in a 2011 study involving 25 European countries. Only Denmark, Switzerland and Norway had lower rates of reported loneliness among people aged over 60.

However, “we all know that loneliness is a problem which faces too many of our people, and in particular older people,” Mr Kyne said.

The 2016 census showed “almost 400,000 people live alone and that the number of over 65s has increased by over 102,000 since 2011”.

Meanwhile, “about 20,000 people a year turn 65 in Ireland and the number of over 65s will double between now and 2050 when senior citizens will account for one quarter of the population,” he said.

At the seminar, Alone launched its befriending app BFriend which allows volunteers and staff record visits to older people and provide feedback.