Easter, much like Christmas, can be a particularly lonely time for people over 60, as it can bring up memories of happy times with their families and grandchildren.
Elderly isolation is an especially important social issue because of a number of factors including the death of loved ones, reduced connections with their country of origin, worsening or chronic illness, widowhood, or changes in income which can put them at greater risk of isolation than other demographics. According to Steve Cole, there can be a connection between subjective loneliness and isolation, although some people living alone never feel lonely. Such loneliness can lead to memory loss, high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, and a weakened immune system. It also can increase the risk of depression and anxiety. Conversely, social participation is 'one of the significant and effective factors for physical and mental health of the elderly', so attention to improving their quality of life has involved free IT courses and generally increasing access to technology, and opportunities to expand their interests and social networks such as through craft cafes or the international U3A.
Older people as a demographic group are not more prone to loneliness than younger people, with one survey stating that loneliness in men peaked at 73% for 18-30 year olds. However, the risks associated with later life do mean that loneliness affects them more.
Studies show that 74% of people said they didn’t tell anyone when experiencing intense loneliness despite having someone they could count on, often due to feeling it is not a real problem, or citing fears of bothering those they know, although 1/5 of adults in the UK say they experience it always or often.
Reaching out to older friends and relatives can be a way to help someone who may be struggling with loneliness, and if many people do this it could help to reduce the stigma. Some ways to do this could be:
- Send homemade cards, postcards, or even small gifts, especially during public holidays.
- Encourage an older friend or relative to get active doing things like gardening or a simple walk around the block, as it can improve cognitive function and mood. If they wanted, it could help to offer to go with them and walk to a place they like.
- Arrange phone calls or a scheduled in-person visit with someone you know, as these are often appreciated. A good conversation can decrease the inflammatory hormone cortisol and increase endorphins in the brain. You could also ask if they need any practical assistance with shopping, technology, or repeat prescriptions.
- Sign up for telephone befriending through MHA communities Winchester
Age UK’s list of useful contacts, linked here, gives sources of further support, which you could recommend to a loved one who is older: ageukig10_useful_contacts_inf.pdf.
Thank you so much for reading. Over each year, Winchester Hub runs several events to help tackle elderly isolation. The next upcoming event you can get involved in is a tea and chat at Matilda Place Winchester, running on Monday the 28th of March from 13:30-3:00 pm. There is still time to sign up here: Give it a Go - Matilda Place Tea and Chat (google.com). You don’t have to stay for the whole time, and your role will be chatting to the residents, keeping them company, and serving them refreshments.