A personal story by Keeva Watson
Many families, like my own, have been touched by Alzheimer’s – the disease that causes nerve cells to die damaging the structure and chemistry of the brain. Alzheimer’s not only affects the memory but can change moods, behaviours and the ability to do everyday tasks. It also increases the likeliness of being socially isolated and lonely.
Loneliness is a public health epidemic in the UK, affecting people of all ages and backgrounds. Yet, those over the age of 75 feel it the most. Loneliness is a complex, individual matter that can come about after retirement; the bereavement of a spouse; the diagnosis of a health condition, ongoing loss of friends as well as the reduction in mobility. AGE UK has found that ‘200,000 older people in the UK have not had a conversation with family or friends for a month’ and ‘4 million older people say TV is their main source of company’. When did it become acceptable that the only voices older people hear are those from the TV? Is this what we have to look forward to in later life?
We can make a change. We can ensure older people in our communities are valued in later life. This isn’t a health issue for our government and NHS to sort out – this is a civic issue. We all have a role to play.
So how can you help your community be age-friendly? It starts at home. Call those aunts and uncles you only see at family weddings and funerals; it will make their day. Look-out for your older neighbours, especially coming into the winter months. Always make sure to say hello. Or why not invite them in for a cuppa.
Did you know, Sunday is the loneliest day of the week for older people – could your church or group run activities and events to support older people in your church and community? ROC’s 101 Community Ideas is an excellent resource with tried and tested ideas to start you off.
ROC has also piloted a befriending scheme in Northern Ireland. ROC Care Rathcoole provides weekly visits and/or phone-calls to those housebound, lonely older people living in the Rathcoole area of Newtownabbey. It’s a simple act of kindness, spending an hour chatting and it’s ‘making all the difference in the world’ to the lives of their clients and their families.
Mother Teresa said ‘loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible form of poverty’.
What could you do today to help fight loneliness?