The growing problem of loneliness, particularly among our ageing population, is one of the many issues facing society today. At our Loneliness Summit this week (10th September) we brought together a host of experts who feel passionately about the subject
As well as giving an insight into some of the challenges, we also discussed the ways in which we can all play a part in helping to alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Our key speaker, Dr Hilary Jones is a familiar and trusted face to millions, dispensing sound medical advice on screen and radio, and in national newspapers and books. He is also medical adviser to Bradford-based Acorn Stairlifts, one of the world’s leading stairlift providers.
In his opening address to the Loneliness Summit, Dr Hilary referred to the need to create interventions within society from both the public and the private sector in order to tackle loneliness, which he called the ‘scourge of the 21st century’. With one in ten GP appointments estimated to be due to the patient’s loneliness, he believes that the issue has a far-reaching and costly impact on society as well as on the individual’s emotional and physical health.
With research showing that 24% of over 50s say that they feel lonely sometimes and 17% of older people in contact with family and friends less than once a week, it is a widespread issue. Dr Hilary referred to the way in which businesses are helping people to live independently and feel less isolated - from reliable Acorn stairlifts enabling them to continue to live in their own homes, to the introduction of juke boxes from Leeds-based Sound Leisure to care homes, helping to lift their spirits.
Dr Hilary also said that individuals and governments needed to be more forward-thinking. For example, ‘be-friending’ whether via individual volunteers or clubs, had been shown to help alleviate loneliness. He pointed out the need to dispel the myth that older people are ‘redundant’ and have nothing to contribute. Often, it is a symbiotic relationship with huge benefits on both sides – for example, inter-generational care is working particularly well with the children who visit older people in care homes often gaining as much from the relationship as the lonely people with whom they spend time.
With society more fragmented than previously, and many people unable to physically leave their homes, Dr Hilary stressed that it is more important than ever that we all do what we can to make friends and engage with others. It’s not just older people who are lonely, with the increase of social media, a lot of younger people feel cut off from human contact too. He believes that the problems are fixable – people need to learn the skills to initiate conversations and show they care.
Dr Maria Horne, Associate Professor in Community and Public Health at Leeds University, talked about the importance of encouraging physical activity in order to improve health and quality of life. She stressed the need to reduce sedentary behaviour; increase physical activity, particularly among women; and tailor interventions to the various sub-groups within society.
Another of our speakers, Clare Forbes, Project Lead for National Trading Standards Scams Team/ Friends Against Scams, highlighted the need to raise awareness of fraud targeting older, vulnerable people. Shockingly, it’s estimated that 53% of people aged over 65 have been targeted by scammers and only 5% of scams are actually reported. If people felt less alone and cut-off, they would be less likely to be taken in by scams.
Finally, Kevin Anderson, UK & I Marketing Director for Tunstall Healthcare, explained some of the ways in which companies like his are using the latest technology to improve connectivity and quality of life for older people. Technology-enabled care solutions are rapidly being developed and are increasingly sophisticated, helping to predict and prevent possible problems from service users.
Our Loneliness Summit concluded with a panel discussion led by Nick Lane-Fox, Chair of Leeds Community Foundation; Alex Fox, CEO of Shared Lives Plus; and Tony Jameson-Allen, Co-founder of Sporting Memories Foundation, all of whom explained how their organisations were playing a part in supporting communities and helping to prevent loneliness and isolation.
Thank you to everyone who took part in the Summit which not only raised awareness of the issues, but also of the many opportunities we have to help!
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