January 2, 2010

UK: Elderly people living alone frequently worry about the cost of keeping warm

. BOURNEMOUTH, South England / Bournemouth Echo / News / January 2, 2009 COLD COMFORT: Elderly people living alone frequently worry about the cost of keeping warm Bournemouth Weather Today High: 4.2°C Low: 0.4°C Highlighting plight of isolated elderly people By Maria Court HALF a million people aged over 65 spent Christmas alone this year. While many couples, friends and families shared seasonal cheer, a large proportion of elderly people in the UK had an isolated and lonely end to 2009. According to Age Concern, more than one in 10 say they always or often feel lonely, and nearly half consider television their main form of company. Indeed, with seven and a half million single-person households in Britain in 2009, compared with just 1.7 million in 1961, the solitary lifestyle sweeping across society has been dubbed “the silent epidemic”. Department of Health figures confirm the worrying trend. More than a million people over 65 feel trapped in their own homes, they reveal, while more than 180,000 people in this age group say they have gone for a whole week without speaking to friends, neighbours or family. Such is the severity of the situation that Care Service Minister Phil Hope is asking the public to make a New Year’s resolution to visit older neighbours more often. “Many older people live alone,” he said. “For some, that’s a choice. For others it means they feel isolated. “We are a very caring nation so I’m asking people to make a resolution to look in on their older neighbours more often, to help them with shopping or to simply pop in for a chat.” Social interaction can protect older people’s mental health. Helping out can prevent falls and injury and keeping an eye on their health could stop them developing serious health problems and ending up in hospital. “Our major aim for the New Year is to build on the care that’s embedded in our society,” he added. “We’ll be creating a National Care Service which everyone will be able to rely on when they get older.” More than half of people over 75 live on their own, and the Daily Echo region is likely to be more highly affected due to the larger proportion of elderly people choosing to retire by the coast. In Bournemouth, 22.4 per cent of people are of retirement age – three and a half per cent higher than the national average across England and Wales. Around 30 per cent of Poole’s residents are aged 60 and over, while in Christchurch that figure is more than 36 per cent. As a whole, Dorset has the second highest proportion of elderly people of any county in Britain, second only to East Sussex, with 25.9 per cent of the population over 65. The closure of local services including shops, post offices and pubs have all helped to isolate people even further, and the digital revolution has left still more behind. Only 17 per cent of people over 65 use the internet, and only half of those over 50 have access to the web. Former Blue Peter presenter Valerie Singleton, 72, who lives in Dorset, has made it her mission to help older people get computer literate by launching simplicITy Computers. “I worry about what seniors are missing out on if they don’t have access to email and the internet,” she told the Echo. “It can open so many doors for them, including meeting new friends and keeping in touch with old ones.” Mervyn Kohler, head of policy at Age Concern/Help the Aged stressed that loneliness isn’t an inevitable part of old age, but a number of factors mean it is more likely to affect the elderly, including poverty, ill health and bereavement. “The death of a loved one can take you into risk of isolation, which in turn can lead to the downward spiral of not looking after yourself properly. “You then start to exclude yourself from events and experiences which present opportunities for friendship,” he said. Bournemouth and District Samaritans were busy over the festive period, and in 2009 they had “more calls than ever”. Director Janet Isaac told the Echo: “Christmas can be a very lonely time for some, particularly if they have lost somebody in the past year. “We offer a listening ear 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It makes a tremendous difference to people’s ability to cope if they know somebody is there to understand and support them,” she said. [rc] * Age Concern: (ageconcern.org.uk) * Help the Aged: (helptheaged.org.uk) © Copyright 2001-2009 Newsquest Media Group