Trudi Scrivener: Ambassador for Health and Wellbeing
Having worked in the social care sector for over 30 years, I know for a fact that ageing comes with many inevitable realities, but loneliness doesn’t have to be one of them.
Combating loneliness and isolation in older people is something that I feel extremely passionate about. The quiet epidemic of loneliness in the elderly may have come into renewed focus during COVID-19, but we need to make sure that it stays at the top of our minds. All of us have experienced isolation during lockdown, but for many elderly people this is their everyday life even in normal circumstances.
Loneliness is seen by many as one of the largest health concerns we face, with many organisations including Age UK and the Campaign to End Loneliness raising its profile.
Why? Here are some rather worrying facts:
- Loneliness is likely to increase your risk of death by 26%. (Holt-Lunstad, 2015)
- Loneliness, living alone and poor social connections are as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. (Holt-Lunstad, 2010)
- The number of over-50s experiencing loneliness is set to reach two million by 2025. This compares to around 1.4 million in 2016 – a 49% increase in 10 years.
- Two fifths all older people (about 3.9 million) say the television is their main company
- More than 2 million people in England over the age of 75 live alone, and more than a million older people say they go over a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour, or family member.
There are many reasons why someone might be feeling lonely. Or there might be no clear reason for why they’re feeling the way they are.
A change in their circumstances is likely to cause feelings of loneliness, such as:
- Losing a loved one
- Getting older or weaker
- Living with a disability
- Moving away from friends and family
- Losing the social contact and enjoyment they used to get from work
- Experiencing health problems that make it difficult for them to go out and do the things they enjoy.
Or there may not be a reason at all. Someone can still feel lonely despite being surrounded by friends and family.
Who to talk to about how you’re feeling
You might want to talk to someone about how you feel or get some advice on what you can do to meet people locally. Having a chat with a friend or relative over the phone can be the next best thing to being with them.
Below are some organisations that may be able to provide help and support. Your GP may be also able to recommend medication or counselling that can help.
Independent Age has published a guide about what to do if you’re feeling lonely, which includes tips about activities you could try.
How to support someone who may be lonely?
Some people may be aware they’re lonely, but just not know what they can about it. If you think someone might be lonely, there are lots of ways you can do your bit to help lonely or socially isolated elderly people in your community. The person you’re helping will reap health benefits, and you’ll find you will as well.
Be there. Simply being there for them can let them know that someone cares. Don’t be afraid to ask them how they are feeling or if there’s anything you can do to help. Having someone who is willing to listen could be a great comfort.
Be patient. When someone’s lonely, particularly if it’s associated with poor mental health or physical health, they may get irritable or feel misunderstood by others. You may need to offer gentle assurance.
Encourage and support. Reassure them that it’s possible to feel better with the right help. They may need some support to make new social connections or access services designed to tackle loneliness.
Get them involved in local community activities. These will vary according to where you live, but the chances are you’ll have access to a singing or walking group, book clubs, bridge, bingo, quiz nights and faith groups. Not to mention local branches of regional and national organisations that hold social events, such as Bucks Older Peoples Action Group (BOPAG), Re-engage and Prevention Matters, a free service that can help introduce you to local support and community groups and help you find activities you’ll enjoy in your local area.
Host a tea party. If you can, try to create an event or activity which welcomes your older residents’ friends and families, as well as other local people of all generations (this could be either in person, or virtually.)
This Sunday (October 2) sees the return of Silver Sunday and The National Day For Older People which aims to tackle loneliness and isolation among older people. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the dedicated day, with well over 1,000 events being staged across the country.
I’m delighted to announce that Ashridge Home Care have teamed up with The Princes Centre of Princes Risborough to run a Free Silver Sunday Afternoon Tea on Sunday 2nd October, 2-4 pm and I would like to take this opportunity to invite the locals to help us by making this the biggest Silver Sunday yet. If you know someone who could benefit, please do not hesitate to invite them to join us.
Initially launched as a local campaign to tackle loneliness and isolation, Silver Sunday is now a national day where people of all generations can come together by hosting fun and free activities for older people. It is a day where older people can meet new people, visit new places, try new activities, and connect with their local communities and the generations around them.
We can all make a difference in the lives of others!
Loneliness definitely can’t be fixed by Government alone, and I think everyone has a role to play:
- As individuals – by being kind and friendly to the older people around us
- As families – by making the effort to stay in touch with older loved ones, beyond our immediate family and those living nearby.
- As local communities – by actively supporting our local charities and other voluntary groups that help older people to have fun, make new friends and enjoy the company of others.
We need to learn the lessons of lockdown and continue to foster community togetherness to ensure that no one is left behind. Loneliness in the elderly poses a serious risk to their health and well-being, and we must do everything we can to tackle it. With your support, we can keep working to make sure that no one has no one to turn to as they get older.