By brighteningminds, Jun 5 2019 02:09PM
Loneliness is something I fear.
I’ve got better at being alone, sometimes I even crave my own space, but I’m scared of feeling lonely. It’s always something I’ve associated with getting older. My nana passed away recently, she was 85 years young. Her health had deteriorated over the last year and she was not as able to get out. My nana attracted people; prior to her physical health decline she’d come back from town and tell stories about this person she’d met whilst waiting for the bus, or this person she’d met in the hairdressers, or someone she’d had a cuppa with when taking a few minutes to sit down. She had one of those faces that said ‘talk to me.’ We often laughed at just how many people would talk to her and tell her the most interesting of stories that she didn’t always know whether to believe!
When my nana couldn’t get out as often she’d hang on for every visit from family or friends; she’d say ‘oh you’ve only just got here do you have to go?’ after a 3 hour visit. She could pull on every heartstring to keep you there, saying to my son ‘oh Dan you’ll have your own life and friends to see won’t you, you’ll not want to stay with your old grandma.’ So he’d stay another hour or two..!
All of this was because when things got more difficult physically she didn’t get as many opportunities to get out and see people. She got lonely.
While I could understand how people can become lonely as they get older, it surprised me to see in the State of Ageing report that actually the loneliest people are aged between 25 and 34 years, closely followed by those aged 35 to 49 years. Looking at the government’s loneliness strategy ‘A connected society: A strategy for tackling loneliness’ and particularly at the illustration about certain life events that leave people lonely it became clearer as to why this might be. Amongst other thing people can become lonely because they enter a period of ill health, because they are living with a disability, because they take on a caring role, or because they suffer a bereavement. Things that could happen to any of us…
So what can we in the health and social care sector do to help with this? Future proofing as I do, I want to ensure that communities are thriving and inclusive of everyone who lives in them, I want to ensure that care provision is of a quality I would hope to experience when I need some care and support, and I want to feel part of something bigger than just me, in my house, wishing someone wanted to talk to me.
Well first of all I think we need to work in a more joined up way. Why is the NHS doing one thing while Local Authorities do another and Care Providers try to ensure they are up to date with all of them? GP’s have started social prescribing; surely to ensure this is successful there needs to also be some communication and links with Voluntary Sector Organisations and Care Providers, to know what is available locally to support people and promote community engagement.
Do we really know the people we support? Do we hear what their interests are; know what people want to do, and what would make them feel less lonely? For many people meeting up with one person they really like once a week would be less isolating than sitting in a room full of people they have nothing in common with 6 days a week, so day centres or activities that have no meaning to them might not be an answer.
Are we supporting people to make the best use of their personal budgets to ensure they get support to live their best life? If socialising is important to someone then how can we ensure they get the opportunities they need to meet people doing things that they like to do? Is our role sometimes as introducer to activities that someone would like to attend but doesn’t have the confidence to visit alone for the first few times?
Do people living in a care home have real options and opportunities to engage with their local community? Does the community see residents as part of its fabric? Do people feel valued where they live?
There are so many things we can do, but we need to talk to each other to make it happen. It all starts with some communication. How many people did you speak to today, or did you smile at? Did you know them all? Let’s challenge ourselves and our teams to talk to one new person each day; to learn something new about people they already know each day, or to think of ways to involve people they support in new activities or opportunities. If you find yourself sat on a bench have a look around you, lift your head out of your phone. Maybe say hello to someone. Be kind. Just like my nana would have done.