As we head into the winter months, it’s so important that we consider the effect that this time inevitably can have on the lonely.  As loneliness can often be coupled with depression, the cold weather and shorter days make it harder for people to leave the house, particularly for those who often have mobility issues.  This can mean that people opt to stay indoors, all alone, day after day.  And the longer they are isolated, the harder it becomes to leave.  It’s a vicious circle.  And one we, as a society, have to stop.

45% of people over 75 admitted to A+E are socially isolated

A recent study showed that 45% of all patients over the age of 75 that were admitted to A&E in south west England were socially isolated.  Is that not a shocking figure?  Almost half of our older people are alone.  It seems to me that tackling this issue head on would be taking a massive step to eradicating loneliness in its entirety.  But what can be done to stop this from happening?

There are some incredible charities and organisations out there working tirelessly to help our older people.  The Royal Voluntary Service, Age UK and Friends of the Elderly (F.O.T.E) are some great examples of charities that run really effective schemes to help with loneliness in old age.  And the NHS is calling for more support in tackling loneliness at its root, therefore alleviating the strain that it is putting on our health services, particularly during the winter months.

So why are such a large number of our older people still in isolation when such schemes are in place?  Perhaps it is in part because many people aren’t aware of how to access the help that they need – or they could be too proud to ask for it.  Sadly, I fear that even if all of these people could be reached, there are too many of them for the charities to cope with.  With more people living longer, the number of older people we have is ever increasing and more needs to be done for them.

Shifting societal perceptions of older people

What is needed, I feel, is a dramatic shift in the way our society views its older people.  Most other cultures involve their older people in their daily lives and we ought to be following suit.  I was inspired recently to meet a young woman named Tash Willows at a local care home.  Tash’s grandmother lived at the home for many years and Tash was a regular visitor.  Following her grandmother’s death she has continued to regularly visit all of the residents and to fundraise for the home.  How incredible at only 16 years old to be making such a difference to people’s lives.  And what struck me even more from speaking to Tash was how knowing the older people had enhanced her life.  It’s not a task or a chore for her, it’s a natural part of her everyday life that she enjoys.  If more of us could be like Tash, we really could see an end to loneliness in our society.

If people on mass started involving the older people in our daily lives, we would stop seeing this rise in loneliness over the winter months, because older people would naturally be included and thought of day in day out, winter or no winter.  An enormous leap is needed from where we are now to where we need to be, but it starts with just a single thought – a single person making that change and setting an example to the rest of us.  So I urge you this winter to give some more time to the older people in your lives and reach out to anybody you might know of that doesn’t have anybody.  If you can’t think of anybody you could help contact some of the charities I’ve mentioned and see if there’s a way for you to be involved or perhaps visit your local care home and see if they would appreciate a volunteer.  Helping one person may not necessarily change the world, but it can change the world for that one person.

Rebecca Young