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Nurses should ask one question to identify loneliness in older people

New report says that the NHS must be equipped to deal with loneliness, but RCN warns that health service cannot deal with this ‘public health pandemic’ alone
Picture of a lonely older woman looking out of a window

New report says that the NHS must be able to deal with loneliness, but RCN warns that health service cannot deal with this public health pandemic alone

Nurses can ask one simple question to help identify loneliness in older people, the RCN says, as a new report, Position statement on loneliness and social isolation, warns that the NHS must be better equipped to deal with this public health pandemic.

There are 1.4 million chronically lonely older people in England alone, but early identification and treatment of health conditions that increase loneliness would improve lives, argues research published by the British Geriatrics

New report says that the NHS must be able to deal with loneliness, but RCN warns that health service cannot deal with this ‘public health pandemic’ alone

Picture of a lonely older woman looking out of a window
Picture: iStock

Nurses can ask one simple question to help identify loneliness in older people, the RCN says, as a new report, Position statement on loneliness and social isolation, warns that the NHS must be better equipped to deal with this ‘public health pandemic’.

There are 1.4 million chronically lonely older people in England alone, but early identification and treatment of health conditions that increase loneliness would improve lives, argues research published by the British Geriatrics Society and Royal College of Psychiatrists.

The report's recommendations include:

  • Adequate treatment for independence-limiting health issues such as chronic pain, visual impairment, incontinence, foot health, malnutrition and oral health
  • Identification of depression, cognitive impairment and dementia, and the use of treatments such as talking therapies, psychosocial interventions and medication
  • Clear and open lines of communication between primary care, community health, mental health, inpatient care and social care professionals
  • Supporting carers to access support because in focusing on the needs of the people they care for they often overlook their own

Loneliness is not always a health-based issue

RCN professional lead for care of older people and dementia Dawne Garrett said the college welcomes the report, but cautioned that tackling loneliness is beyond the capacity of the healthcare system alone.

‘It’s not always a health-based issue, it is about transport, leisure and education too,’ she said.

Ms Garret added: ‘We advise nurses to ask people one question – “How often do you feel lonely?” – and this is a recognised measure of loneliness.'

Online nursing resources for identifying loneliness

‘We are also creating a support resource for nurses who are themselves experiencing loneliness.’

Ms Garrett said the RCN is developing online resources to help nurses better identify loneliness in their clients and patients after a resolution to help address the condition was passed at congress earlier this year.

The web resource will go live next spring.

A government spokesperson said it was committed to tackling loneliness through its loneliness strategy, which launched last year.

‘This includes investing in social prescribing schemes to make sure everyone can engage within their communities, a £11.5 million Building Connections Fund supporting 126 projects to tackle loneliness and transform the lives of thousands of lonely people, and outlining almost 60 commitments across nine departments,’ the spokesperson said.

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