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Home Sharing Provides an Innovative Way to Combat Loneliness Among the Elderly

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Image of elderly man with walking stick and his carer
Image of elderly man with walking stick and his carer

The likes of Airbnb have received huge amounts of publicity in recent years, and have undoubtedly brought homesharing into the mainstream. There are however other examples of the practice that are both more permanent and more socially worthwhile.

Homeshare International are a body that promote the practice of homesharing, especially amongst the elderly population.

Homesharing for the elderly

The concept is a relatively simple one. On one hand, you have older people who have lived in their home for much of their life. They don't want to leave their home, but could use a bit of help and companionship in order to retain their independence.

And then you have younger people who are struggling to pay the often astronomical rents to live in the kind of thriving cities that offer them the employment opportunities they crave.

Enter homesharing. This is where those older homeowners open up their home to a young professional. Whereas lodging arrangements have been common for a long time, homesharing is usually free to the 'lodger' but it comes with an expectation that they will provide some help around the home, whether it's doing the shopping or tending to the garden.

Fixing multiple problems

The project is a nice way of fixing a multitude of problems, not least of which is how to build communities for the ageing populations throughout the west. Whereas in previous generations families would largely have lived near one another, in our globalized world it is increasingly common for the young to move away from the family home in search of work, whether that's elsewhere in the country or even overseas.

This results in there being little in the way of support network for the elderly when they need a bit of help. It also tackles the increasingly appreciated problem of solitude amongst the elderly. Indeed, a recent study from Age UK found that around half of over 75's regarded their television as their sole companion.

Homesharing does wonders to tackle this kind of solitude and loneliness. In many of the 'partnerships' things move beyond the merely transactional and blossom into a much deeper and more personal relationship.

The concept has been around for a while, but the web has facilitated rapid growth, and the development of platforms such as Airbnb have undoubtedly helped to 'normalize' the practice.

The curse of loneliness

It's a problem that Age UK are well aware of and doing their best to rectify. I spoke to Emily Georghiou, Local Influencing Manager at Age UK at the recent Neighbourhoods of the Future event, which is an EC backed venture to try and define healthy living for the elderly population.

"Loneliness is a real problem for too many people in the UK. Half of all people aged 75 and over live alone and 1 in 10 aged 65 or over say they are always or often lonely - that's just over a million people. Shockingly, half of all older people (about 5 million) consider the television as their main form of company," she told me.

The home environment plays a crucial role in our mental and physical wellbeing, which is what makes projects such as home sharing so powerful.

"Mounting evidence shows loneliness has a serious impact on our mental and physical health - which in turn can lead to greater reliance on health and social care services," Georghiou continues.

She suggests that being chronically lonely, which is a state that roughly 10% of older people find themselves in, can be as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, with an increased risk of conditions such as dementia and raised blood pressure as a result.

I think we can all agree that the huge rise in life expectancy is a good thing, but the key now is to ensure that we're living longer whilst also living well into old age. Innovations such as home sharing might go some way towards doing just that.