Home alone: extend life while saving life

Most of us are at home right now – what will it be like when we’re older? And what is being done to improve things? What does Lockdown mean for Longevity?

The words social isolation were used as a warning to the aging population that they were at an increased risk of falls, injury and depression. Now, as the deadly virus COVID-19 claims thousands of lives, social isolating has become a vital mantra as people attempt to stop the spread of the disease.

Longevity.Technology: AgeTech is a fast moving area of research; as the population ages, strategies need to be put in place to help those living alone cope with getting older. Living longer hasn’t always meant living well, but as the world goes into lockdown to avoid spreading COVID-19 (#staysafestayhome and #stayhomesavelives), lots of people are getting a taste of what their old age will be like and what technology will make their lives happier and better. Or, if not, what AgeTech is needed? Older people, used to socialising and being active, are suddenly isolated, reliant on technology for communication, among other things. What can we learn from the current crisis?

The head of L&G‘s urban retirement housing business, Guild Living, Eugene Marchese, has spent 20 years focusing on this sector. Now L&G has partnered with the University of Bath to research the the causes and impact of emotional loneliness in older people living in retirement communities. As the current crisis means social isolation becomes mandatory, this research is especially timely.

L&G housing
L&G’s research launch. L-R: Michael Eggington, co-founder and CEO, Guild Living; Jonathan Knight, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research) for the University of Bath; Professor Malcolm Johnson, visiting professor at the University of Bath; Eugene Marchese, co-founder and director, Guild Living; Ben Rosewall, head of investment – later living, Legal & General Capital

The Guild Living/Bath research is looking at creating “later living communities” that combine architectural design, technology, wellbeing and care. By drawing on cross-cultural studies in the UK and Australia and by designing “age-friendly” environments, communities and care programmes, they aim to tackle loneliness and isolation and formulate a strategy for healthy aging.

This is in keeping with current UK strategy – the Government committed £400m to research in this area in 2017 and with over than 10 million people in the UK alive today who can be expected to live past 100, there is a pressing need to ensure those aging can be as well and happy as possible, both for their own benefit and to prevent additional strain on the National Health Service and economy. To work towards addressing this, there is research into multi-generational living, as well as advanced community living projects.

The incidences and risks of falls and accidents can be quantified, but experts are also looking to tackle the “silent epidemic” of loneliness. Age UK has estimated that there are at least 3.6 million older people living alone in the UK today – over 2 million of these are aged 75 and over [1].

As well as causing depression and mental health issues, loneliness is thought to be a cause of coronary heart disease, inflammation and contribute to chronic health conditions. In fact, researchers found that loneliness is just as dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes per day and that lonely people are 50% more likely to die prematurely than those who have healthy social relationships [2].

“… shift our culture towards valuing – rather than ostracising – people in their older years …”

No wonder then that research is focused on ensuring our older living communities have social needs built in.

Professor Malcolm Johnson, visiting Professor at University of Bath, said: “As a youth-oriented society, we need to recognise that people are living longer and, consequentially, “old age” is happening much later. The dominant feature of old age care is looking after people’s health and safety, yet all too often, people are being left in their own homes and on their own, with minimal human contact.

This risks physical, emotional and cognitive decline. Our research will investigate what interventions we can make to reinstate people’s confidence, tackle one of the biggest killers, loneliness, and shift our culture towards valuing – rather than ostracising – people in their older years [3].”

Eugene Marchese, founder at Guild Living, said: “With an ageing population and a growing social care crisis, Britain has an opportunity to embrace radical change – not just in housing or care – but how we treat older people [4].”

[1] https://www.livhomecareproviders.com/social-isolation-loneliness-the-silent-killer/
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3890922/
[3] https://bit.ly/2WHhuGo
[4] Ibid.

Images courtesy of Guild Living