As many as 40,000 people living with cancer in Yorkshire are suffering with loneliness as a result of their illness, leaving many housebound and unable to feed themselves properly, according to new research published today.
The figures equate to almost one in four cancer sufferers in the region - 24 per cent - are struggling with feelings of loneliness, Macmillan Cancer Support says.
The study reveals that lonely cancer patients are three times more likely to drink more alcohol than they usually do, affecting an estimated 9,000 lonely people with cancer in Yorkshire; almost five times more likely to have not left the house for days affecting around 28,000 cancer patients in the region; and almost three times more likely to have problems sleeping, affecting some 32,000 local patients.
Ciarán Devane, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “It’s hard enough for people being hit with the devastating news that they have cancer, without having to suffer the additional effects that being lonely brings. It’s heartbreaking to think of people struggling to eat or leave the house because they have been abandoned and left to deal with cancer alone.
“This is a growing problem which is only set to get worse as the number of people diagnosed with cancer doubles from two to four million in the next 20 years.”
Macmillan provides a range of services, including a support line and an online community that offer a lifeline to people affected by cancer.
“But we simply can’t help everyone who needs us now, let alone those who will need us in the future so we need more public donations and support,” the charity boss said.
“We also urgently need the NHS, policy makers and local authorities to wake up to this looming loneliness epidemic and work with us to provide these vital services to ensure no one faces cancer alone.”
The charity says its research, carried out by Ipsos MORI, is the first to examine the detrimental impacts of being lonely on the lives of people living with cancer by comparing the experiences of cancer patients who say they feel lonely since their diagnosis with those who do not.
The findings also raise serious dietary concerns. Lonely cancer patients are five times more likely to skip meals and eight times more likely to eat a poor diet. Reasons for not eating properly include lack of appetite, having no food in the house and being too weak to cook, while 13 per cent of lonely cancer patients who skip meals say it is because they cannot afford to buy enough food.
The Yorkshire Post is highlighting the heart-breaking scale of loneliness affecting people across the region as part of a campaign which urges local authorities to write loneliness and social isolation into their health and wellbeing strategies and the sad statistics released by Macmillan add to the growing evidence of a hidden epidemic of loneliness affecting our communities.
Paul Taylor, Yorkshire area manager for older people’s charity Royal Voluntary Service, said today’s research is heartbreaking.
“Cancer affects more than a third of people over 75, an age group which is susceptible to the devastating effects of loneliness already. The new research out today makes it even more important for communities to make tackling loneliness a priority.
“Volunteers are ideally placed to support local authorities in combatting loneliness and isolation, which makes a huge difference to physical health. Our research on how loneliness affects older people with any kind of illness found nearly half of people over 75 said without someone to support them after a stay in hospital it would have taken them a lot longer to recover.”
Case Study - Doreen Watt
People with cancer who are most likely to feel lonely include those with cancer that is advanced or has spread or relapsed, those living alone, and those who have made a change to their working life.
Doreen Watt, 67, of Bradford, was diagnosed with lung cancer early last year and barely left the house for two months after undergoing keyhole surgery as she struggled with the emotional impact. She said: “When I got home, that is when it hit me. I felt very isolated and lonely and lost my confidence. I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning, I didn’t feel like cooking or doing jobs round the house – I didn’t have the motivation to do anything.”