Contact the Elderly, the charity which I founded nearly 50 years ago with the sole focus of combating loneliness and isolation, recently conducted research into loneliness. The findings show that:
• 85% of the population say they feel lonely after spending a weekend or less alone.
• Of these 45% feel lonely after only a weekend on their own
• 28% feel lonely after a day and 12% after only one evening on their own.
These figures are startling when one considers that older people regularly spend weeks, if not months on end, without meaningful social interaction.
For many guests the happy occasions of spending one afternoon per month having tea with a group of older guests and volunteers, are the only cross on the calendar. Contact the Elderly would like to draw public attention to what complete isolation feels like and what people can do to help solve the problem.
It is hard for those of us who lead busy and fulfilling lives to comprehend how devastating loneliness can be. We have gained valuable insight from Contact the Elderly volunteer Bobby Brooks who organised and carried out a week-long isolation challenge. His partner and dog moved out and Bobby spent 5 days with no communication via phone, text, email or face to face with anyone else. Internet access to news sites etc? He sent emails (with no reply) to the Contact the Elderly office to share how he was feeling. Some of Bobby's emails offered fascinating insight in to how quickly loneliness can occur and what it really feels like. After just four days in complete isolation Bobby said:
"Even though it's cold outside I have the window open just so I can hear real conversations outside"
"Could desperately use a hug, or some type of acknowledgement"
These comments endorse the view highlighted in the media that extreme loneliness in older people can have a significant effect on their health. Such isolation is also all too often compounded with mobility issues, migration of family members, death of relatives and friends.
Contact the Elderly has witnessed over many years the real benefits of maintaining regular social contact with older guests, by keeping them in the social swing, out of hospital and off the social services, and with 25% less visits to GP surgeries, with consequent savings for the taxpayer. Older guests acknowledged the vital importance of our friendship link in the following moving terms:
"I felt lonely and Contact the Elderly filled a void in my life."
"At last I have something to live for!"
It takes very little time to make a huge difference in helping to provide the solution.
Contact the Elderly focuses on doing rather than talking about doing, and on the solution rather than the problem of loneliness. In the run up to our Golden Jubilee in 2015 we therefore invite you to join our national network of 7,000 volunteers.
I assure you that the benefits for volunteers are almost as great as for the older guests. Please join us and transform your life as well as theirs.
'IF NOT NOW, WHEN?'
Please share to highlight a solution led approach to tackling loneliness in older people.