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Survey finds that being alone is Britain’s biggest fear about death

22nd April 2008

One in three Britons fear dying alone

A new YouGov survey published today finds that being alone is Britain’s biggest fear about death

32% of all adults in the national survey stated being alone as their greatest fear about dying. The survey was carried out as part of new report by Dignity in Dying, entitled Dying Alone, which examines the impact that an increasing population of people living alone in old age is having on dying. The report looks at peoples fears about dying most notably that of being alone and what needs to be done to ease these fears, and ensure that elderly people living alone have access to appropriate end-of-life care.

Of over 2000 respondents, the fear of dying alone was stronger in those who lived with relatives than those who actually lived alone, suggesting that there is an acceptance among those who live alone that they may also face dying alone.

20% of people stated a lack of adequate pain relief to be their greatest fear of dying and 9% said that not having their treatment wishes respected would be their biggest fear.

Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, said,

“The findings of our research provide a unique insight into the issues we face at the end of our lives. Dying alone is a real fear for millions of people.

“The needs of an increasing population of elderly people living alone must be addressed in the End of Life Care Strategy. Everyone, particularly those living alone, must have the option of a personalised end-of-life care plan and advance decision in order to communicate their preferences for treatment and care.”

The survey also found that the fear of dying alone was stronger in younger people, suggesting that people in this age group are more aware of social changes that may lead to an increased chance of them being alone in old age. A recent report by the WRVS predicted that by 2021, the population of elderly people living alone will have increased by as much as a third, due to various social changes, such as more people opting not to have children.

The YouGov survey also found that people over 55 – particularly those who live alone – were more concerned about the practicalities surrounding dying, such as having their treatment wishes respected and dying in a place of their choice.

Wootton continued,

“It is important that elderly people living alone are given the extra support they need. This will ensure that they have access to the same services as those living with family.

“Health and social care professionals need to take a proactive approach to providing people with accessible information and end-of-life care to ensure that these fears about dying are eased.”

The survey also found strong regional differences in fears about dying – which can be viewed below – most notably determined by the proportion of people in each region who are living alone.

Regional differences

-On average in the UK, 15% of the population live alone: In Wales, this figure is almost a quarter (23%). Wales was the region in the UK that had the smallest proportion of people who stated being alone as their greatest fear, with just 22%
– In Northern England, just 11% of the population live alone; these respondents have an above average fear of dying alone
– People in Scotland fear their treatment wishes not being respected more than any other region, with 12% stating this as their greatest fear
– People in the East of England are more scared of not having pain control in dying than any other region
– People in the South East have the greatest fear of dying alone

Wootton concluded,

“The fears that we have about dying are very real. They reflect the varying individual needs that we have and the different issues we may be faced with at the end of our lives. Care of the dying needs to be flexible, adaptable and personalised.”

Dignity in Dying’s full report, Dying Alone, can be found here. A full table of results of the YouGov survey can be obtained by contacting Jessica Tomlin on 020 7479 7736 or


About Dignity in Dying

Dignity in Dying is the leading organisation in the UK that promotes and campaigns for greater patient choice at the end of life. The organisation is the country’s leading provider of Advanced Decisions (formerly known as Living Wills). Dignity in Dying has over 100,000 supporters and receives its funding entirely from donations from the public.

About the YouGov survey

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,246 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 3rd – 7th April 2008. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

Methodology: This survey has been conducted using an online interview administered members of the YouGov Plc GB panel of 185,000+ individuals who have agreed to take part in surveys. An email was sent to panellists selected at random from the base sample according to the sample definition, inviting them to take part in the survey and providing a link to the survey. (The sample definition could be “GB adult population” or a subset such as “GB adult females”). YouGov Plc normally achieves a response rate of between 35% and 50% to surveys however this does vary dependent upon the subject matter, complexity and length of the questionnaire. The responding sample is weighted to the profile of the sample definition to provide a representative reporting sample. The profile is normally derived from census data or, if not available from the census, from industry accepted data.

About the Dying Alone report

This report aimed to provide a unique new analysis on the effect that an increasing amount of elderly people living alone will have on their deaths and how we need to adapt end-of-life care services to meet the ever-changing needs of society.

A recent report by WRVS, Home Alone, predicted that by 2021, the population of elderly people living alone will have increased by as much as a third.

The report, which looked at how social isolation in later life was becoming increasingly common, provided an in-depth analysis of the factors that are leading to this. Many people already die alone, without any support from family or friends and sometimes- as is frequently reported in the media- even die unnoticed. Society faces the challenge of an increasing number of such deaths taking place as more and more people face living the end of their lives alone.

Dignity in Dying combined the WRVS study with its own and other existing research to identify key trends connecting living alone with dying alone, and addressing the public?s fears about the end of their lives, in order to determine how we can accommodate an increasing amount of people who will face the end of their lives without any immediate family support and who would otherwise face dying alone.

Media enquiries

For all media enquiries, please contact Jessica Tomlin on 020 7479 7736 or

[1] WRVS, Home Alone, 2004