Call to help ease elderly isolation

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Loneliness among older people can be partly alleviated by neighbours and relatives making an effort to help the elderly remain social.

Age NI’s reminder that many older people feel isolated comes in the wake a report on the problem this week.

The findings of the report on loneliness among older people in London, but groups dealing with the elderly in Northern Ireland believe that the problem is as bad here, if not worse.

The London research suggested nearly a fifth (18 per cent) of over-75s in capital “felt lonely much of the time during the past week”.

Age NI told the News Letter yesterday that similar research for Northern Ireland found that 58 per cent of people over 55 identified loneliness as “the main problem facing older people in NI”.

Anne O’Reilly, Age NI Chief Executive, said two significant factors in Northern Ireland loneliness are rural isolation and icy weather, which promotes a fear of falling.

“Many factors may contribute to feelings of isolation and loneliness including significant transitions in later life like retirement and bereavement,” she said. “Other factors may be poor mental health, rural isolation, living alone, decreased physical health and mobility.

“For many older people, this may mean a loss of social and emotional support and an inability to cope. “Loneliness, especially in winter, can be caused by icy roads and poorly treated pavement surfaces, resulting in older people feeling frightened to venture out through fear of falling. Combine this with high energy bills and longer, darker evenings you have the perfect storm for hard-up older people to feel like prisoners in their own home.”

The London research argued that benefits and other programmes for pensioners should be targeted at over 75s rather than those over 65, because the older group was more at risk of isolation.

Loneliness was not as great among slightly younger people, at only 11.8 per cent for people aged 65-74, compared 18 per cent among those over 75. And the City of London Corporation’s City Bridge Trust report suggested that part of the reason could be that only a quarter of 65 to 74-year-olds live alone, compared to nearly half of people over 75s.

It suggested that GPs should give “information prescriptions” to elderly people to make sure that they get the right advice on loneliness.

Age NI has launched the ‘Spread the Warmth’ campaign to deal with the issue. The charity urges the public to get involved by calling on older friends, neighbours and relatives so they remain social and connected to the outside world.

It also asks people to give lifts an older people with no transport or cook a little extra dinner for someone who lives alone.

The charity has produced a free winter guide, ‘Winter Wrapped Up’ which offers advice on issues like heating, health and support, Copies can be requested on 028 9024 5729 or see www.ageni.org/spreadthewarmth