Older people, and the leading charity Engage with Age, are reaching out to address the impact loneliness has on older people.
Loneliness for older people is a significant issue, particularly at the moment with the impact of “lockdown” and the need to stay safe through the Covid-19 Pandemic.
· Due to Covid-19, there were over 2,500 new calls to Belfast Trust’s community co-ordination centres. The vast majority of the calls were from older people, and isolation and loneliness was a recurring issue. Many services received the same number of requests for assistance from older people in two months that they would normally receive in a full year.
· The need to address loneliness has been highlighted by Belfast City Council and the Belfast Health and Social care Board’s “Age Friendly Belfast Strategy”.
· Before the impact of Covid-19, a 2018 Belfast City Council report highlighted that 1 in 6 older people in Belfast may be isolated or lonely. Now the impact may be worse.
· 25% of those aged over 75% who live alone don’t speak to someone everyday (Engage with Age 2018).
· A study by Holst-Lunstad (2015) highlights the impact of loneliness on health equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes per day.
Covid-19 has complicated an already challenging situation for older people. Engage with Age staff have taken calls from older people who hadn’t spoken to anyone in weeks, from older people who endured the impact of bereavement on their own, and people who experienced enforced isolation from shielding due to medical conditions.
WHAT OLDER PEOPLE SAY ABOUT GOING OUT AND SOCIAL CONTACT
Engage with Age surveyed over 200 older people between 20th August and 14th September 2020, asking about attitudes towards getting out, meeting up and activities.
· 90% respondents said they would meet indoors for a small activity with between 6-8 people, if it was well managed.
· Almost 70% respondents said they would attend an indoor activity with up to 20 other people attending if it was well organised.
· 75% said they would attend an outdoor activity.
NANCY STORY; NICK’S STORY
Nancy Croft, 72, lives alone in east Belfast. Nancy says:
“I don’t have any relatives here, except a relative in Enniskillen who was shielding, so throughout Covid there was no-one to call down and say hello to me through an open window or over the garden hedge. I found the best way to feel less lonely was to go out, go shopping or on the bus, and be among other people. I make a point now of saying hello to the people who live near me and it makes me and them feel better.”
Nick Menhinick, 75, who lives alone in south Belfast, was shielding for much of lock-down for health reasons. Nick says:
“I consider myself a positive and resilient person but even I struggled, only being allowed to make one visit to the shops every week. Staring at the four walls can be debilitating. I’ve found online activities and phone calls invaluable and it’s been a real lifeline for staying well.”
GROUPS AND TELEPHONE BEFRIENDING
Everything that Engage with Age does is undertaken within government guidelines and also with strict measures for keeping everyone safe.
An enthusiastic band of older people, with Engage with Age, are offering opportunities for safe social activities and telephone befriending through the PAL Project. PAL stands for “People Addressing Loneliness”.
Group activities, organised by older people themselves, offer a varied programme including socially distanced dancing, walking groups, online activities such as quizzes and “Chocolate Bingo”, and helping to produce the “PAL Gazette” newspaper. All activities are “Covid Secure”.
A new Telephone Befriending service, with older people acting as Befrienders, has started. It offers the opportunity for older people who don’t like group activities or who can’t leave their home to have telephone contact every week and have someone to say hello to. The Befriending Service is supervised and moderated.
Eamon Quinn, Director of Engage with Age, says:
“How older people feel about getting out and about these days is very personal. It is important to be safe, follow guidelines, but also keep social connections. For older people who want more social contact, Engage with Age has something for everyone.”
To find out more and to get involved
Call Engage with Age on 028 9073 5696
or visit our website on www.engagewithage.org.uk