Huge rise in number of elderly people living alone in Bristol

There has been a huge rise in the numbers of lonely old people living alone in Bristol and the surrounding area – putting them at greater risk of social isolation, depression, and ill health. When the census was taken in 2011, there were 45,096 people aged 65 and over living alone in our area.

This year’s census shows that number has swelled to 48,523 – a rise of 7.6%, meaning there are 3,427 more pensioners living on their own than there were 10 years ago. But the increase is likely to be even more pronounced because the 2011 census counted the number of people living alone from the age of 65, while the latest census counts people from the age of 66.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director of Age UK said: “The fact that there are significantly greater numbers of older people living alone and the likelihood this will grow in the years to come has big implications for our society as a whole and the NHS. Loneliness is certainly not inevitable in later life but it remains a widespread issue that blights the lives of far too many older people affecting health and well-being.

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“Loneliness is not the only problem for older people living on their own – we worry about older people who are on their own who have no one to take care of them when they get sick. In the absence of this support at home older people are more likely to need help from formal health and care services, and it is important that this potential additional demand is factored in. At the moment our health and care system usually operates on the assumption that there is always a close relative ready to assist, but these new figures show this is probably not the case for growing numbers of older people.”

In our area, North Somerset has the highest proportion of elderly people living alone, a total of 14,451 elderly single-person households – which makes up 15.3% of all households in the area. According to the 2022 census, there are 3.2 million people aged 66 and over who live alone in England and Wales.

That has increased by 12.5%, or by more than 150,000 since 2011 – although the increase will be greater because the census previously counted people aged 65 and over. Elderly people living alone are at a greater risk of social isolation which is known to increase the risk of poor health.

Health Foundation research has shown that people over the age of 65 who live alone are 50% more likely to go to A&E than those who live with someone else, and are also more likely to be admitted to hospital as an inpatient. A Health Foundation study also found that nearly half (49.8%) of those aged 65 and over and living alone have three or more long-term conditions, compared to 42.2% of those living with others; while around one in four elderly people living alone have a mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety, compared with one in five of those who live with a partner, friend, or family.

A government spokesperson said: “We’re supporting charity and community groups to help people affected by loneliness and we have reached millions of people through campaigns, including during Mental Health Awareness Week and Loneliness Awareness Week, to share helpful tips and resources to help improve wellbeing.

“We will also invest an additional £2.3 billion per year into mental wellbeing services by 2024 – giving two million more people the help they need, and NHS England is providing an extra £10 million funding to support mental health services throughout the winter to deal with record demand.”

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