Nearly half of people aged 80 or over admit they are lonely. Age UK are fighting to combat loneliness in Suffolk - could you help?
- Credit: Archant
Missionary Mother Teresa said: ‘The biggest disease today is not leprosy or cancer or tuberculosis but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for and deserted by everybody.’
The Shine a Light on Loneliness campaign will strive to make sure older folk in Suffolk don’t feel like that.
Thanks to Age UK Suffolk’s befriending service, Frank Norman’s had more laughs and smiles in the past year than he might otherwise have enjoyed.
A relative put him in touch with the charity after he lost his wife and suffered problems with his eyesight. Frank is now visited once a week by volunteer befriender Bob Self. “It’s been a great thing having Bob come and visit,” he says. “We spend a lot of time talking together – we don’t stop! My loneliness has improved a great deal since Bob has been coming to talk to me. It’s quite nice to have someone come and visit you for an hour or so a week.
“Our relationship is very good. I’m a shy person, so I really wait for other people to come and talk to me. We always have something to talk about...”
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Loneliness is a big problem, and it’s likely to get worse as the population ages. It takes its toll, as a mass of research findings collected by Age UK Suffolk suggests. Here are some of them:
• 17% of older people don’t speak to friends, family or neighbours in over a week, and 10% in over a month.
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• 6% of older people leave their house once a week or even less than that. In Suffolk, which has more than 158,000 older people, that means 9,480 people leave their house once a week or less.
• In 2012, a study found that more than 20% of older people in Britain felt lonely all the time.
• 40-50% of those aged over 80 say they are lonely.
• By 2035 it is predicted that Suffolk will have 250,000 residents aged over 65 ? a 63% rise on today.
• By 2035 more than 30% of the Suffolk population will be aged over 65; nationally, it will be only 24%.
• People who use befriending services say they are less lonely as a result. Research suggests that befriending saves £35 a year in direct treatment and support costs per person.
• Social isolation and loneliness increases the use of health and social care services.
• People with strong social relationships have a 50% higher survival rate than folk with weaker social relationships.
• Research on social group activities suggests they can have a positive impact on physical health, reducing falls and mortality rates, and significantly cut demands placed on health services such as GPs, hospitals and outpatient appointments.
Fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom!
Age UK Suffolk can put older people in touch with activities near where they live, provide someone to talk to them each week on the phone, or get a volunteer to visit. There are also chances to get together to meet other people and make new friends.
If you’re an older person ? or a relative, friend or neighbour wanting to help someone enjoy the contented life they deserve ? you’ll find tips on this page about how to go about it. There are also details about the wide range of opportunities offered by Age UK Suffolk that can increase social contact and improve health.
And anyone keen to roll up their sleeves and volunteer for myriad useful roles ? or contribute financially to the charity’s vital work in the county ? can also discover how to get in touch.
“Although people who live alone are at increased risk of loneliness, this does not necessarily mean they feel isolated,” says Hannah Bloom, the director of fundraising and communications. “People who are lonely but who also have friends and family can be frightened of expressing how they feel for fear of appearing ungrateful.
“Older people don’t want to be seen as a nuisance and can easily feel forgotten. It can be hard for someone with working-age children to tell them that they experience loneliness.
“Older people tell us that they don’t want their families to feel under increased pressure to visit or see them as a burden, when they know how busy they are. But making time for those around you, while they are around, is so important.
“Once we have lost our older generations we have lost direct connection to their experiences: first-hand accounts of the period during and following the First and Second World Wars, and the swinging sixties, when British culture was a global inspiration.” Sharron Cozens, Age UK Suffolk’s acting chief executive, says: “We hope this campaign lets older people know that Suffolk cares about them and that help is available to those experiencing loneliness.
“You can be as lonely in a town or city as in a small village, and whatever your age.
“A newspaper, parish magazine or local radio station can provide an important form of connection, company and reassurance to people who may not have regular visitors.
“The East Anglian Daily Times helps to keep people in touch with their community, news stories and events, which is why we are so pleased to have its support to Shine a Light on Loneliness in 2015.”
Liz Legg is a Food ‘n’ Friends volunteer, hosting a group alongside Christine and Derek Webb. (The numbers grew so fast!) The scheme encourages hosts to hold a monthly light lunch for older people who pay a small contribution to cover costs.
“We really enjoy each occasion and the guests get so much out of it as well,” she says. “There is nothing more social than a group of friends sitting around a table, enjoying a meal together.”
Trena Elsey, who works in Ipswich for financial services business LV=, is given time during her working week to be a telephone befriender.
“My befriendee says that she loves talking to me and looks forward to my phone call. She has told me numerous times that it is lonely as you get older, but that my call helps her through this.”
Janice volunteers at the Age UK Suffolk walk-in Information Help Centre in Lowestoft, answering questions from members of the public on a host of subjects. Volunteering has allowed her “to learn a lot about the needs of older people and the services Age UK Suffolk provides”.
Taylor Moulton volunteers at the charity’s Felixstowe shop. “I used to be quite a shy person before I started volunteering but working at the shop has really helped me.
“Working at Age UK Suffolk really opens your eyes up to the lives of older people; it helps you form a connection that helps you learn and grow.”
If you or someone you know would like to learn more about the services available from Age UK Suffolk, ring 01473 351234 or visit www.ageuksuffolk.org
To get involved with the Shine a Light on Loneliness campaign, fundraising or to volunteer, call 01473 359911.