We’ve reached the point where there are more people over State Pension age in the UK than children. Society is fundamentally changing as more of us are living longer.
But our increased longevity coincides with greater levels of the twin killers – social isolation and loneliness. A study published in 2013 found that being isolated from family and friends was linked with a 26% higher death risk over seven years.
Michelle Mitchell, former director general of Age UK commented that it
“shows … that being lonely and isolated is not only miserable, it is a real health risk, increasing the risk of early death.”
Amongst other aims, the 2010 to 2015 government policy: older people considers how to help people “age well”, by keeping them active and socially engaged. A significant portion of Fed’s community services address just this – through one-to-one befriending and group sessions – our Purple Room Community Cafe, coffee-stop outings, mental health Drop In and carers’ groups.
But what about people who no longer live in their own homes in the community? Are residents of care homes immune from loneliness? They may not be socially isolated but with families fragmenting, through divorce, or as children and grandchildren move away, and with many older adult children still in full-time employment, loneliness can still be a sad reality.
Edith, a resident of Heathlands Village is featured in The Fed’s Rosh Hashanah Appeal. She has no family at all – let alone children and grandchildren living out of town or abroad, who can only visit occasionally – perhaps the more common scenario.
She must be provided with food, warmth, safety, activities and entertainment – that’s a given. But it isn’t enough. To thrive, Edith, like all of us – young and old, living in our own homes or in a care home, need meaningful relationships; we need to love and be loved; we need people to share a joke with, to reminisce with; to give us a hug in the morning.
Looking after people in care means more than wheeling them from one part of the building to another to attend an activity; helping them take a shower; have a shave; it means being like family to them, when their family is not around or, as in Edith’s case, no longer exists.