Last October the Government said that loneliness is one of the greatest public health challenges of our time, as it launched the first cross-Government strategy on the issue. And Age UK say that of the population over the age of 75, two million people live alone. Loneliness is often compared to the impact of well-known risk factors such as obesity, smoking and the increased risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and dementia.
So far, so worrying. But what can be done by care providers to make a difference to people’s lives when they are lonely and isolated? Last year at SCIE we published a report which looked at loneliness and the role of commissioners. It identified what works in addressing loneliness and social isolation. But what else can be done by staff on a day-to-day basis to help people?
Look to the community
When you start by embracing the strengths and capabilities people have, rather than what is ‘wrong with them’, it starts a different sort of conversation. The Care Act 2014 requires local authorities to consider what outcomes people want to achieve, based on their skills, ambitions, and priorities; the goal being to promote individual wellbeing. Take Andrew, who was missing his wife and who had become isolated. Staff worked hard to find out about Andrew and discovered he has a keen interest in football; and so he began volunteering for his local team. This is the sort of thing that provides wider connections in the community, to live a good life. It can help over mental health – and it can tackle isolation.
Loneliness in a crowded room
It is possible to be isolated when living in a care home, even when there are lots of people around. The old adage about being lonely in a crowded room is a reality for many. At SCIE, we have developed a Care Home Action plan. It is a tool to support good conversations with residents and staff, and identify the improvements that will make the most difference to people’s quality of life. This can help to break down the barriers that can be thrown up, leading to someone feeling isolated. If personalisation is not embedded in ways of working in a care home then it is likely to have a problem with isolation.
Here are just some of the practical measures that practitioners and providers are taking in the capital alone:
In Lambeth, Community Connectors link people in their local community with activities and organisations that can help improve their quality of life. Jewish Care encourages volunteers to host tea parties in their homes and also organises Sunday gatherings. They say that the important thing is to make the sessions regular so that people can rely on them occurring in an accessible and natural way. North London Cares and South London Cares look to make people feel valued, vibrant and visible. When older people told them that they wanted to connect to the rapidly changing world around them, they developed digital technology workshops.
There are some suggested things that anyone can do to help, on the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, from volunteering to organising get-togethers. And the Campaign to End Loneliness has advice for people who feel that they might be becoming lonely and isolated.
Dame Esther Rantzen is Founder of Silver Line helpline for older people. Dame Esther wrote a blog for us saying that she once took a call from someone saying that they were just waiting to die. Dame Esther says that she believes the person was, in fact, looking for a reason to live. And it is clear that there are many ways in which care providers can help to address the scourge of loneliness and isolation on a daily basis.
The Silver Line helpline for older people. 0800 4 70 80 90 www.thesilverline.org.uk
SCIE: Tackling loneliness and isolation: www.tinyurl.com/scieisolation
SCIE: Care home action plan: www.tinyurl.com/scieactionplan