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Tackling loneliness and isolation

Older people are vulnerable to social isolation and loneliness and the effects can be devastating.

What is loneliness?

Loneliness is a feeling which can have a dramatic impact on our health. This video explores the topic in more detail (it lasts around 12.5 minutes).

Loneliness and isolation in older people

Poor health and deteriorating hearing, sight, speech, mobility or memory can all make it difficult to meet others, maintain relationships or engage in activities outside the home leading to isolation and loneliness.

Although closely related, isolation and loneliness are not the same thing. Isolation is about the lack of social relationships and contact whereas loneliness is the negative emotional response to the gap between the social contacts we have and those which we would like to have.

Loneliness and isolation are linked to a number of emotional and physical health problems with some studies suggesting they can be as detrimental as smoking and worse than obesity. A recent evidence review from Brunel University found links between. social isolation and specific blood chemicals which are linked to inflammation in the body.

What can I do?

It can be heartbreaking to see an ageing parent become increasingly isolated. You can't solve all of their problems but there is plenty you can do.

Maintaining regular and frequent contact is vital – regular phone or face time calls can make a huge difference when you can’t visit in person.

Enrol others in the contact agenda! Relatives, friends, neighbours can help.

If funds allow, then home visits from suitable therapists might be valuable eg art therapists, music therapists, complementary therapies, beauty therapy,

Explore whether any specialist products or services could help to overcome any specific disability such as hearing or visual impairment – see our neighbourhood directory for contact details.

If appropriate, helping your parent to develop their digital skills could open up a new world of online community contact. Digital gaming. – scrabble, bridge, mahjong are all means of opening up connections. Connecting to others with shared hobbies or interests might also be facilitated digitally or through magazines, online lectures, etc

Public institutions are increasingly offering in-person or virtual opportunities to enable people to connect. Taking into account your parent’s budget, limitations, and interests you might want to explore opportunities provided by museums, galleries, parks and libraries or major charities and universities.

Fire and police services are also increasingly supporting older people in the community.

Participating in research could open up a whole new world! There is a national research programme for dementia sufferers and their carers – see this link.

You could consider passing on the number for The Silver Line – it is a free confidential helpline providing information, friendship and advice to older people, open 24 hours a day, every day of the year. DIAL 0800 4 70 80 90
Read more about the Silver Line.

Explore the options which are available in your parent’s local community. There is growing awareness of problems relating to isolation in older people and increasingly more neighbourhood initiatives including befriending schemes are being developed.

Local faith groups eg the church, synagogue or mosque, often have suitable schemes.

Community centres, social enterprises are also worth exploring.

Schools and colleges, youth centres, scouts and guide associations are increasingly engaging in intergenerational schemes.

The local council or GP surgery might have a link worker who, or a website which, can help you understand what is available. GP surgeries are increasingly employing link workers who can help to signpost to local initiatives.

Beware of scams or exploitation. An isolated or lonely elderly person may be vulnerable to the empty charm of those with criminal or uncharitable intentions.

Falling, or fear of falling, can have a major impact on mental health in older people. Falls can cause older people to lose confidence in going about their day to day activities leading to depression, isolation or loss of independence.

If you are concerned, then Local Authorities and NHS Primary care agencies can play a formal role. Link workers can visit and develop a plan to promote engagement.

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September 2020

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