Today, many older people - even those living in the heart of a bustling community - feel isolated. This could be as a result of bereavement, an empty nest, divorce, family breakdown or even just retirement.
But help is at hand for those who feel friendless and forgotten.
Loneliness has quietly become one of the biggest issues facing our nation. Forty per cent of people over 60 live on their own. One third of people in their fifties or above, and nearly half of those over 80, say they always or often feel lonely. Half of older people regard TV as their main source of company.
On the bright side, it appears that across the UK there are many projects aiming to combat loneliness. The UK's innovation foundation, Nesta (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) is highlighting the issue through its Ageing Well Challenge Prize. Its shortlist of five schemes to tackle isolation and loneliness includes a radio club where participants chat live on air from their armchairs, and a community cafe. The £50,000 prize for the winner (why not £10k for five projects?), funded by the Cabinet Office, will be awarded in November. Meanwhile The Big Lottery Fund is financing innovative schemes throughout the country that it hopes will be replicated.
First, a couple of relevant sites to view:
Bad health contributes to loneliness in old people: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-22108873
More than three million face a life of loneliness because of family break-ups and lack of friendly neighbours: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2233216/More-million-elderly-people-face-life-loneliness-family-break-ups-lack-friendly-neighbours.html
So here are some isolation-busting projects to inspire us. By making older people participants as well as recipients, many of them acknowledge the wealth of skills and experience that the silver generation has to offer.
Become a radio head: If you love Joe Loss, crosswords, or have a passionate attachment for your local football team, how about sharing your enthusiasm, stories and knowledge through a weekly radio show? That's what Radio Club, a Nesta finalist, does by enabling older people in Birmingham to socialise from their own homes for an hour a week.
Members pass on their wisdom and thoughts, and because they're involved in the programme planning, they get friendly phone calls outside the Radio Club hour. This means that both they and their growing band of listeners can be sure tat the content is what they want.
As well as having a new sense of belonging and community, and feeling that their contribution is valued, they may be Sir Terry Wogan a run for his money. This is a pilot scheme: the organisers hope to set up other clubs. (See myradioclub.com)
Carry on learning: There's nothing quite like ongoing learning to keep the grey cells firing. The University of the Third Age (U3A) has a well-deserved reputation for the way it mixes discovery with companionship. U3As are set up by members wherever and whenever an interest is shared, whether it's art, a modern language, chemistry, needlework, barn dancing or drama. There are no entrance qualifications, lectures or exams - it's all for fun (see: u3A.org.uk).
For more formal learning that leads to qualifications, the Open University welcomes older students (see: open.ac.uk)
Preserve our heritage: If you enjoy spending time in grand places, why not volunteer to support the National Trust at a property near you? Volunteers arrange flowers, help conserve artefacts, garden in spectacular grounds, drive buggies, bake cakes, not to mention guiding visitors and working with school parties. Visit nationaltrust.org.uk and enter 'volunteer' in the search box.
Become a trustee: Whatever your background, there is likely to be a charity that would welcome your experience and wisdom by involving you as a trustee. It's about getting the match right and can be a great way to contribute to something worthwhile. Search for vacancies at trusteenet.org.uk.
Run a community cafe: NANA is a comfort food and community cafe (and NESTA finalist) run by older women in Hackney, London. The 'nanas' do the home cooking - which gets them out of the house, meeting new people, and showing off their skills. As the 'nanas' are at the heart of the service, they feel useful and involved; and commitment is rewarded with a percentage of the profits. If you'd like to open a NANA in your area, see wearenana.com (or visit vimeo.com/55772878).
Share your knowledge: The Amazings is a new company renewing the principle that society should learn from its elders, enabling valuable - and sometimes rare - skills, knowledge and wisdom to be passed on. Its tutors are all over 50 and have had life experiences worth sharing - there's a drummer, an illustrator, an entrepreneur, a vocal coach, a seamstress, a ukulele player - and many more. Classes are fun and available to all age groups, and cost from around £12. Based in London, they plan to go nationwide (theamazings.com).
Make new friends: Childline founder Esther Rantzen has set up The Silver Line, a telephone befriending service that was launched in the North west and go national in November. The service has so far had more than 2,000 calls and befriended 300 people.
'People often call for advice' but the team always explores why they're calling and whether they might welcome a regular conversation It's about having something to look forward to. This service makes a huge difference and has had much positive feedback, see thesilverline.org.uk.
Join a choir: If you've seen the Gareth Malone TV programmes in which he brings together choirs in the most unlikely circumstances, then you'll understand the transforming power of singing. Find local singing groups at nationalassociationofchoirs.org.uk or choirs.org.uk.
Get DIY help: Need a bit of decorating - and someone to share a pot of tea? Silverlinks, run by Care & Repair England, enables older people in Manchester, Leeds and Bristol who face home repair, maintenance and even problems with moving home to get help through a volunteers' support system of older people. The project helps during difficult times, such as bereavement or theonset of disability. Volunteers with similar experiences offer an ear as well as advice (careandrepair-england.org.uk).
Come dine with us: Nothing to do with the lurid TV series, except that this volunteer project in County Durham brings together older people in 'community dining circles' cooking for each other in their own homes. There are lunch clubs, too - and all without larger-than-life voiceovers. (see ageuk.org.uk)
Get connected: You might know AgeUK is a national network with day centres, lunch clubs and practical advice for older people, but did you know it runs a befriending service - either on the telephone or in person? Each older person who gets in touch is assigned a 'friend' to chat to and provide companionship on a regular basis. The telephone befriending service ' 'Call in Time' - is a daily or weekly call of about 20 minutes from trained friendly volunteers.
For the 5.2 million people aged 65 and over who have never been online, there are IT classes and support in the community, and in September there is to be a special week when you can learn about new technology and meet new people (ageuk.org.uk)
Swap skills: Based on the age-old idea of bartering, Care4Care engages 500 neighbourhood volunteers of all aged to give their time and skills to more than 600 older people on the Isle of Wight. In exchange for tasks - from shopping, odd jobs and repairs to IT knowhow and support when applying for help and benefits - each volunteer earns 'care time credits', which are saved into a care pension for whenever the carer or their family needs support in future. Contact AGE UK, Isle of Wight or visit care4care.org.
Similarly, Touchstones aims to build a network in Yorkshire to ensure that lonely older people feel connected and supported. Run by Rural Action Yorkshire, the scheme provides information on local services such as gardening or repair work, and offers support from other older people in a similar situation who volunteer to share their skills, see email@example.com.
Shed some light: Men in Sheds is a grass roots movement providing skill-sharing and companionship to older men, including Tools Company a group in Exeter whose project is one of the NESTA finalists. Older men in the area repair old or broken garden and trade tools for local charities and to send to Africa for business start-up schemes. Using donated tools and volunteer buddies, Men in Sheds gives older men a chance to spend time with kindred spirits and reconnect with practical activity. See ageuk.org.uk/exeter/ourservices.
For 300 older people who are socially isolated in northwest England, Barrow RespectAbility offers a Men in Sheds project as well as running a cooking club, an active-living project and an eBay project selling specialist items, see barrowrespectability.wordpress.com.
Return to the farm: If you've lived and worked in rural Dorset or Somerset, and miss your jobs, the Countrymen's Club offers therapeutic farming sessions, including working with animals and horticulture.
Run by Future Roots, the project aims to help older men to remain active, to retain and pass on their skills and also become involved in volunteering, see countrymen.org.uk.
Make a film: SPECS (Silver Dreams Project for Empowerment and Creativity in Care Settings) in the East Midlands is run by Learning for the Fourth Age (L4A) and is helping 100 people in care h omes, and another 40 who receive care at home, to make a film about their life, suitable for showing on a large screen to family, friends and the local community, see l4a.org.uk.
Do you know of any similar projects in your area? (if you do please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org)
(From the August 2013 Saga Magazine)
Preventing loneliness and social isolation among older people:
And finally, I looked at various sites to see the secrets of avoiding loneliness and these conclusions
- Differentiate between loneliness and solitude (http://www.wikihow.com/Deal-With-Loneliness)
- Write in a journal - perhaps a journal of memories, as times change so quickly. We we think of is ordinary is often amazing to the younger generation, such as the days before anyone had a phone, let alone a mobile phone. How did we communicate way back then?
- Or take time to sort out all those photos, making a note on them of where, when, who and perhaps adding any other information. Perhaps enlarge the notes to make stories for the younger generation to read.
- Connect with your community. How? Volunteer perhaps? Or go along to local groups; for instance in our local library every month we have 'prime time' where older people meet for a talk with a chat and coffee afterwards. Become involved in local issues -we can all make a difference. Help with the 'friends' group at your surgery, go along to coffee mornings, help with the car service or perhaps they may have a befriending scheme. Every Tuesday evening two hours I ring people who are carers and often house-bound. It's fun and not onerous as I'm ringing as friend so can also talk about myself. This means we generate a two-way conversation (not like Samaritans where the person answering the phone is anonymous). Over the months I've been doing it I've noticed a difference in the people I ring and it's certainly changed my views too - and I enjoy it!
- Read a good book, and don't feel guilty if it's the middle of the day! The same goes for knitting, sewing, crosswords, jigsaws, sudoku and all the other pastimes which used to be fitted in after the day's work was completed.
- Or the opposite - be still and do nothing; we don't have to be busy every minute of the day. Before the days on TV, or even electric light, people must have spent many an hour sitting quietly looking at the flames in the fire and thinking (or not thinking!).
- Set up a date to meet a friend. This is one of those things which we mean to do but often don't get round to.
I'm sure there are many more ideas - the public library is often a place to get more information, or the local council, doctors' surgery, local church, community centre, even some pubs, restaurants or cafes. (here in Paignton we have 'Eat That Frog' (strange name!) https://www.facebook.com/eatthatfroguk and http://www.torcom.org.uk/groups/eat-frog where there's all sorts going on.
An interesting article: