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Article by Sarah Hamilton-Walker | 10th December 2018

Don't Let Older People Be Lonely This Christmas

While the festive holiday might be the most wonderful time of the year for many, for hundreds of others it can be the loneliest.

Recent research has revealed that one in five people over the age of 70 eat all of their main meals alone – and that’s a normal day in a normal week, not on a special day such as Christmas.

The research, carried out by the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS) among 1,000 people over the age of 70, also discovered that one in 10 said they regularly skipped meals. The RVS, which runs lunch clubs, said eating alone could affect health and wellbeing and urged people to help run clubs.

Rebecca Kennelly, from the RVS, said: “For many older people in Britain, eating alone is an everyday occurrence.

“Support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery is helping Royal Voluntary Service to develop more lunch and social clubs across the country to ensure older people get to eat at least one healthy, hot meal in the company of others on a regular basis.”

Closer to home

Back in October, an eye-opening report* established that 27% of over 75s often or very often feel lonely. Shockingly, it’s estimated that more than one million** older people – over the age of 75 – can go over a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour or family member. Isolation often leads to many more complex mental health issues compounded by a lack of exercise, fresh air or a breakdown of communication with friends and family. But how do you recognise those initial signs of loneliness?

Martin Steyn, who runs local in-home care business, Caremark Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge & Malling (caremark.co.uk/locations/tunbridge-wells-tonbridge-and-malling), often witnesses, first hand, the implications of loneliness and isolation on the elderly and vulnerable. Here, he gives advice on how to spot the signs of loneliness and how you can support your loved ones during solitary times. 

Loneliness doesn’t always look the same

Our elderly loved ones can become isolated for a number of reasons. Perhaps you don’t live nearby, so regular visits aren’t an option, their nearest and dearest are no longer around or they’ve recently lost access to their own mode of transport. Don’t assume that your parent or grandparent is receiving regular visits from friends – even if they tell you they are – as they may feel as though they don’t want to burden you.

A great way to ascertain whether or not a loved one feels lonely is by tackling the issue head-on – make regular phone calls, of around 10 minutes a day, and ask what they’ve been up to. If you’re speaking regularly, chances are they will communicate honestly with you about their daily routine, allowing you to pick up on any gaps in their contact with the outside world.

What to do in times of loneliness

So, you’ve had that conversation and are beginning to become concerned about your loved one’s lack of social contact. The good news? They have you! If regular visits aren’t always manageable, continue with those phone calls, or plan in a series of day trips for your parent or grandparent to plan for or look forward to.

Suggest local community groups or coffee mornings and, if they have issues with mobility, get in touch with a local care provider and ask how they can support in getting your nearest and dearest out and about.

Is loneliness something you can ‘treat’?

It’s important to understand that isolation often leads to other problems. Loneliness can cause a lack of motivation, so there is always a risk that they may lose interest in cooking for themselves and they could even stop leaving the house altogether. If left unacknowledged, a gradual lack of motivation can lead to serious issues with mental health, as this ‘hopeless’ behaviour can promote a cycle of disheartenment.

If there has been a loss of mobility, due to old age or accident, small but significant alterations can be made to ensure that your parent or grandparent can continue with life in as normal a way as possible.

Speak with your GP or local care services about the option for an in-home care plan. Regular visits from a care professional could tackle two problems in one – it provides that all-important human contact from someone who has your loved one’s best interests at heart, who can also help with everyday tasks around the home.

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