Opinion

Dear Society!

Jonathan Freeman MBE, CEO, CareTech Foundation

“Let’s talk about how we can reduce social isolation”

 All of us, at some points in our lives, will feel socially isolated or even lonely. This is, unfortunately, particularly common later in our lives as we age.  Social isolation can be very common at this time in a person’s life, when our families and friends are often busy working and living their lives.  Social isolation also disproportionately affects those with conditions which can limit their ability to engage in communal events.

Whilst for most, a move to residential care can be a really positive experience, sometimes this transition can exacerbate social isolation.  Going into a care home can be a huge upheaval for an individual, who will often leave behind people and possessions with which they were very familiar and a living environment familiar to them. A move in to residential care can involve leaving behind your home and belongings, communities, neighbours, friends and family.  And this move is, of course, very often triggered by physical and mental challenges that have reached a point when a step up in help is required.

It is no exaggeration to describe transition in to residential care as often being a very traumatic time in a person’s life. It is, therefore, critical that care homes address the issue that service users might feel isolated from society after going into care.

How can a home make residents feel less isolated and more involved? There are lots of activities that a care home can put into place.

Clearly, care homes need to optimise the time residents spend with their families and friends. This is easily the most important way to help reduce social isolation. Having a visit from loved ones is often the highlight of a resident’s day and families should be educated about the importance of this.

Physical and mental wellbeing are often linked, so it is important to make sure, where possible, residents keep active. This can involve Chair Aerobics, Yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi, movement to music etc. This could also be balanced with group activities like chess, bridge or bingo.

Introduce simple day-to-day activities to keep residents active, like gardening and growing produce, setting up allotments that can be shared with local schools, keeping chickens. Other hobbies include dancing, choirs, film clubs and exercise.  Other possibilities including evening classes in the care home and these could be extended to include participation from outside visitors.  It is more and more common for care homes to introduce animals like cats and dogs to residents, as this has proved to be very therapeutic.  All of these activities have a long list of health benefits and will help to improve residents’ physical and mental health.

There is no doubt that social isolation in care homes can be a problem but in wider society it is a potential ticking time-bomb. As society has evolved to become more and more led by technology, and where traditional family and community living arrangements have been so weakened, people of all ages are affected by social isolation. This was particularly prevalent during the pandemic when due to Covid-19, we all had to stay at home.

The CareTech Foundation recently awarded a grant to Papyrus – the suicide prevention and mental health charity – to support their mission to reduce the number of young people who take their own lives each year. This grant helped support Papyrus’s work and highlighted the critical importance of reducing social isolation –  and the consequences it can have on mental health. We are passionate about supporting causes that are committed to the improvement of the life-outcomes for people who suffer with mental health and to reducing the stigma.

To reduce social isolation in society we need to acknowledge it is a problem and then invest in charities, services and campaigns to help reduce the number of people affected. At the Foundation, we have invested in a number of causes in the UK and overseas to help reduce social isolation for everyone it affects and to provide support to people who suffer with mental health.

Being socially isolated can hugely impact an individual’s mental health and impact their ability to function day-to-day. In extreme cases, it can make a person feel their life has no purpose and there is little point to living. It can be a dangerous conundrum –  and as a society we should tackle it head on and aim to reduce the number of people living in social isolation – once and for all! At the Foundation, we want to be a part of this fight and where we can join forces with organisations and causes to help make social isolation a problem of the past!

@jonathanfreeman

 

 

 

 

Kirsty

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