A research study by psychologists at Greenwich University, found pensioners with strong social networks were 30% more satisfied with their lives. Maintaining friendships through hobbies, clubs and shared interests were key contributing factors.
Perhaps not a surprising result but a very significant one nonetheless, with important implications for social policy. There is ample evidence of the high correlation between loneliness and ill heath which means less happy older people result in a higher cost to society in the long term.
The closure of older peoples’ day centres is a short sighted short-term economic policy if it leads to greater social isolation. In the retail sector the closure of so many pubs, small convenience shops and local post offices also takes away so many venues where older people would congregate during an otherwise lonely day. Commercial rationalisation and internet shopping may be good for business but are not conducive to a chat with friends.
In the retirement housing I have been involved with over the last 30 years, the major motivation for people moving in is safety and security. Once that is provided, the biggest perceived benefits are the companionship of other older people and the opportunity to participate in activities.
The social policy implications of this are the reverse of the direction current economic policies are driving. Social isolation will only be reduced if a more pro-active approach is developed to involving older people in the community and giving them more opportunity to fully participate in society. This would need a relatively small investment in community development compared to the alternative high cost of health care for the elderly.
Friends are a far better tonic than the pills we offer so many old people at the moment!