Loneliness and isolation

Authored by: Christina Victor , Mary Pat Sullivan

Routledge Handbook of Cultural Gerontology

Print publication date:  June  2015
Online publication date:  June  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415631143
eBook ISBN: 9780203097090
Adobe ISBN: 9781136221033


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In a speech about older people at the National Children and Adults Services (NCAS) conference on October 18, 2013, the British Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt highlighted the ‘problem of loneliness that in our busy lives we have utterly failed to confront as a society’ and stated that ‘it is a source of national shame that as many as 800,000 people in England are chronically lonely… . Some five million people say television is their main form of company’. His suggestion to solve the problem of loneliness in later life was to emulate the ‘respect’ and explicit inter-generational solidarity he stated is articulated within Asian countries and that ‘every lonely person has someone who could visit them and offer companionship’. These comments neatly encapsulate a common stereotype of old age and later life that is commonly articulated within contemporary western and northern European countries. Loneliness is perceived as a ‘normal part of ageing’ (Pettigrew and Roberts, 2008) and unique to later life; older people are perceived as lonely and isolated (Tan et al., 2004), and older people themselves have internalized these views held about them. For example, one-third of people aged 18–64 in the United States see loneliness as a problem of growing older (Pew Research Centre, 2009), while one-third of those aged 65+ in England believe that loneliness is part of ‘normal’ ageing and 50 per cent expect to get lonelier as they age (Victor, 2013). These views thereby suggest that there is little we can do to ‘prevent’ this experience, one that is both universal and homogeneous.

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