December 29, 2009

UK: Try a little togetherness at loneliest time of year

. WORCESTER, England / Worcester News / December 29, 2009 By Flora Drury CHRISTMAS is a time for family – but what if you don’t have any, or they live hundreds of miles away? What if, as time went by, your neighbours changed and you found yourself unable to leave the house? Slowly, you would become completely isolated. A distant nightmare for many, this is the case for hundreds of elderly people across Worcestershire who have become disconnected from the community and find themselves alone – not just at Christmas, but all the time. David Clark, of Age Concern Worcester, said: “We never know how many people are actually living like this, because of the very nature of the problem. “Some are used to being on their own, they might be a bit fearful of the outside world and they become introverted.” ALONE WITH THEIR THOUGHTS: Many elderly people have withdrawn from society The “very nature of the problem” is that these older people have slowly withdrawn from society, and have been forgotten. “Some are fit enough to get out, but the problem comes when they cannot get out anymore – that’s when we have to try to save them from falling into the depths of despair or depression.” For Tony Joyce, the registered care manager at Eclipse Home Care, Hallow, it is a problem he sees far too often. “Some of the elderly have issues with eyesight, hearing and mobility so they don’t particularly go outside,” said Mr Joyce. “So the outside world begins to seem threatening to them, with things like technological advances, and then when they listen to the news, it can be frightening.” Rob Gready, the care home manager, agrees. He knows the carers from Eclipse often provide the only conversation these elderly people will have all day. He said: “It is a tragedy, and unfortunately it happens all too often.” The real tragedy, though, is that it is believed keeping the mind active and stimulated is one of the best ways to stave off later problems with confusion and dementia. Mr Gready said: “People are social and they need interaction to keep going. The brain is a muscle and needs to be exercised. “For us in the care industry, we need to move beyond simply the practicalities of caring and from what carers in general do. I think it’s so important to focus on interaction. It’s one of the things I really want to be different.” He can be proud then that his companionship carers, who visit people in their own homes and help out a little, will always try to go the extra mile, even popping in to see clients on the way home. But these are the lucky ones – the people who Age Concern come across are often not so lucky. “We are always coming across more people who feel isolated – it’s very sad,” said Mr Clark. “The only time we get to know about these people is when a neighbour or someone tells us.” And as soon as they are referred to Age Concern, they are visited by a care worker, who will assess and check them. It is at this stage they can alert any other agency which may need to be contacted – such as social services – and tell the elderly person about benefits they may be entitled to, but not aware of. Once the charity becomes aware of the person, they can make sure they no longer feel lonely or afraid. Lunch clubs and social clubs will give them a chance to meet new people and begin to feel part of the community again. But, without the community in the first place, these people would never have been found. It is something that concerns Mr Gready: “People are so wrapped up in themselves, I don’t know if we are as good now as we used to be.” But Mr Clark is more positive. “If there is no family around, then it comes down to neighbours to look after these people – but there are an awful lot who already do, and for that we are grateful.” But they all agree the only way to solve the problem is if the community really pulls together, and takes notice. “It’s important the community are aware,” said Mr Clark, “Where neighbours notice, it would be nice if they could spare a bit of time every now and then.” “Obviously, the best communities take the time and trouble,” said Mr Gready. “It makes such a difference in people’s lives having interaction and using their minds and memories. “It’s about so much more than just Christmas – it’s a time when people could be particularly sad, but people really need to be aware all the time.” [rc] © Copyright 2001-2009 Newsquest Media Group