Half a million elderly people never or hardly ever meet other people, a number which has increased by 77% in four years, warns the association Les Petits Frères des Pauvres in a study published Thursday, September 30. The Covid-19 crisis, with health restrictions, “Threw those who had a fragile relational fabric into intense isolation”, observe the association in the second edition of its barometer “Loneliness and isolation when you are over 60 in France in 2021”.
The number of seniors isolated from family and friendly circles has more than doubled (+ 122%) in four years, going from 900,000 in 2017 to 2 million in 2021. This sharp increase is “One of the consequences of more than fifteen months of health crisis” which put a brake on the meetings. 1.3 million elderly people never or hardly ever see their children and grandchildren, against 470,000 during the previous barometer, published in 2017.
“I have four children, nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, but I am all alone. There is one who lives in the Bordeaux region, another in the Gard, another in the Paris region. My daughter lives in Lille, but she works and doesn’t have time ”, testifies Denise, 81, who lives in Hauts-de-France, cited by the study.
Four circles of sociability
The association takes into account four circles of sociability to measure the isolation of the elderly: family, friends, neighborhood, associations. Some 530,000 elderly people are no longer in any of these circles. “Between 2017 and 2021, our measure of the social death indicator has almost doubled”, notes Yann Lasnier, general delegate of the Little Brothers of the Poor. “Links with friends and associative networks have suffered the most from successive confinements”, notes the association in its study published on the occasion of the International Day of Older Persons on 1er October.
About 3.9 million elderly people, or one in five, have no or hardly any friendly relations, against 1.5 million in 2017. It is the neighborhood circle that has suffered the least (- 2%) , as well as relations with traders and other local professionals, whose association emphasizes the role of “Ramparts against isolation”. “The only person I saw this week was the electrician who gave me light bulbs”, says Berthe, 71, cited by the study.
A third of the elderly (6.5 million people) feel lonely frequently, 14% (or 2.5 million) every day or very often. Cited by half of the people, the health crisis has had an extremely strong impact on the loneliness of the elderly, faced with the death of a loved one, illness, disability, separation or divorce. Being without a close family, losing autonomy, not being comfortable with digital technology and having an income of less than 1,000 euros are factors that trigger isolation.
“An isolated elderly person slips to death”
Some 3.6 million elderly people are still excluded from digital technology, while the Internet, with social networks and vision conferences, has been a valuable tool for maintaining social ties during the crisis. They were encouraged to use it, however, as 61% made video calls in 2021, especially younger seniors. However, social isolation is a factor in giving up healthcare.
“An isolated elderly person slips to death”, observes the psychiatrist Boris Cyrulnik, cited by the study. The association for the fight against senior loneliness recommends taking into account relational isolation to assess the loss of autonomy of the elderly, which conditions aid.
The desire to age at home is expressed even more strongly than in 2017, by 44% of seniors. Ehpad see “Their image even more tarnished” through “A health crisis which has shown the difficulty of combining preservation of the health of residents and respect for citizenship”, observe Les Petits Frères. Regretting the abandonment of the “great age” law promised by the government, the association calls for “Make the fight against the isolation of the elderly a major axis in the construction of public policies to prevent the loss of autonomy”.