Loneliness – a shame of modern civilisation!
What are we not doing right?
Sadly the UK can pride itself of a figure of 1.2 million older people now being chronically lonely – according to Age UK.Their website also says that 3,6m older people in the UK live alone and more than
2 million of them are over 75 years old. generational living model that has since gained popularity around the world. Of these people’ 1,9 million often feel ignored or invisible. Lonelmess can be as harmful for our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day!
Age UK has been running “Campaign to End Loneliness” for one year now, urging people 1to pledge their support by volunteering for a telephone friendship service.The result shows that, a few months later, nine in ten older people are less lonely. The emotional negative effect of being lonely is likely io lead to health conditions such as heart problems, depression and dementia, which in turn causes a backlash on the overstretched NHS.Thankfully, many initiatives to combat and change this are already having positive results.
Let us have a look at some of the attempts in the UK and abroad, aimed at breaking the generational barriers and easing loneliness. Consider the beautiful image of a young child and an elderly person having a laugh, engaging in conversation and playing happily together. In the U.S. and Japan, there is a growing movemnet to combine nursery and day-care withreturement care. The Daily Mail says:”At the Intergenerational Learning Centre in Seattle, there is now a two-year waiting list for children to access this day-care. They do music, dancing and art project alongside what are effectivley adoptive grandparents and great-grandparents”.
Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds, a Channel 4 TV experiment a few years ago proved clearly that inter-generational contact is vital for all generations. Academic studies show that children become more articulate and confident and the depressed older person is uplifted. This shows how important it is to be loved, and the children have such pure and positve love. “To find a child’shand in yours is one of the most moving things that can happen to you”, expressed an elderly lady in the programme.
Inter-generational work benefits from the introduction of children at an early age-following the example of Camden Council who, have, for many years, combined nursery-aged children with older people.
In a seperate Age UK booklet entitled The value of working with older volunteers, the introduction says: “Older people can be a big assest to their schools and communitites. Their knowledge, skills and life expereince make them perfect candidates to enchance younger peopel’s learning, as well as providing interaction and extra support by bringing curriculum to life”. On the island of Okinawa with its many centenarians (as described in my May article on “ikigai”), the elderly feel a duty to share their wisdom with younger generations – a reason to live which brings them ikigai.
The Netherlands made headlines in 2012 by pioneering Humanitas, an inter- generational living model that has since gained popularity around the world. The model is simple: having a university student living in nursing homes in for 30 hours of volunteer work with the elderly per month, students are able to stay in vacant rooms free of charge. The result of merging the two generations and burying lhe bubble of Similar aged peers. living together is key. The students act as a neighbour to the residents in their eighties and nineties – this cOUld be a brilliant way for UK universmes lo reduce tution costs or accommodation fees for meaningful social investment between young and old people.
My final example of finding the answer 10 loneliness comes from the market town of Frome in Somerset: Compassionate Frome project started five years ago by a GP to combat isolation y creating a buzz of sociability, a sense of purpose and a creative, exciting atmosphere amongst the lonely. It has been very successful in breaking the familiar cycle of misery among the elderly. Frome has seen a dramatic fall in emergency hospital admissions since the start of the project. This could transform treatment regimes, save lives and save the NHS a fortune. The answer is on par with the topic from my April article – Finding your connections in your community – care for each other.
So, how can we as an individual help? Firstly, keep in contact with older relatives, freinds and people living nearby. In addition, consider setting up a volunteering scheme to help lonely and isolated older people through Age UK or one of the many communtiy centres in our area.