Special feature: Support our campaign and strive to put an end to loneliness

Editorial image
Editorial image

Loneliness in older people is a financial and social epidemic. It will cost the NHS billions of pounds and leave an invaluable debt on humanity; if left untreated. We want you to help Make It Stop in the community campaign which aims to empower individuals through information, support and understanding.

Loneliness and isolation are topical ‘buzz words’ but what are we actually actively doing to help our aging population?

In a world of communication at our fingertips; hundreds of ‘likes’ from facebook friends and re-tweet after tweet - there’s a section of our society feeling more and more shut-out from the outside world.

Community breakdowns caused by social factors including job relocation mean children are often no longer ‘round the corner’ from their aging parents; there are increased numbers of people living alone; and advances in technology are programming us into being less sociable creatures within our habitat.

Today, in one in five Halifax homes a pensioner lives alone with a large proportion of these men and women saying they feel lonely, on a daily basis.

The number of men and women aged over 65 who live alone in Calderdale has doubled to 11,520 in ten years since the 2001 Census.

A third of people, aged 65 and over, presently live alone - records for the office for national statistics report.

Loneliness has a detrimental effect on the whole of society. Depressing statistics show not only are we failing some of our most valued members of society but the social epidemic is costing the NHS billions of pounds in providing sharp end critical care which could be avoided with early intervention.

Decreased social interaction and stimulation leads to degenerative mental illnesses including depression, anxiety and dementia, as well as physical health detriments including high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and injury.

‘Social prescribing’ is a new ‘more than medicine’ approach GPs are adopting which seeks to improve health and wellbeing by referring patients to local social activities including exercise and social classes.

Over the coming months the Courier will feature these services to help older people feel better connected in their communities.

It’s time to make it stop and, last week, the Courier reported that Calderdale philanthropic provider Community Foundation for Calderdale (CFFC) announced its primary focus would be ‘older people’ and pledged a wonderful £25,000 to the #MakeItStop Foundation and Courier campaign.

The CFFC funding and additional funds generated through public support will be directed at local groups which provide services to older people aiming to combat social isolation, fuel poverty and health and social issues.

Steve Duncan, chief executive officer of CFFC, said: “It is terrible to think that in an age when so many people are hyper connected with online social networks that older people are suffering very real health implications because they are socially isolated.”

The Government has introduced the Care Act 2015 which will bring changes to social care provision. Under the new legislation, local authorities will be required to carry out their care and support functions with the aim of integrating services with those provided by the NHS and any other health-related service.

Loneliness is big business. Calderdale Council and Calderdale Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) have invested £1 million to tackle the huge financial and social problem.

The Staying Well Neighbourhood Pilot Project has established a group of experts who will form partnerships with the public, private and voluntary sector; improve access for people by bringing together existing community schemes; encourage other members of the community to help involve lonely people more in community life; and help educate society generally about the impact of loneliness and what they can do to help.

The pilot project has created 11 new job posts, including a project manager, neighbourhood posts and a coordinator for social prescribing.

NHS Calderdale’s CCG clinical lead and Halifax’s Spring Hall Surgery doctor, Steven Cleasby, said: “We want to put an end to loneliness. We know that 12,000 people aged over 65 live alone in Calderdale and one in three of these say they feel lonely and just over ten per cent feel trapped in their own home.

“Lonely people are more likely to visit their GP and are more prone to depression and have a 64 per cent increased chance of developing clinical dementia; have higher use of medication; fall more frequently and become more reliant on care services. As well as the impact on a person’s physical health, loneliness can cause mental illness and even suicide in older age. It particularly affects the over 75s who are a priority for the CCG.”

Part of the initiative will ask over 75s if they feel lonely and if they want to be part of the socialisation scheme.

Calderdale Council’s Leader, councillor Stephen Baines, said: “We want Calderdale to be a place where older people live healthy, fulfilling and independent lives, and take the issue of loneliness very seriously.

“We are identifying the people who are most isolated and in the greatest need of support, and setting up local funding schemes for innovative projects to test what works and delivers the best outcomes. This could include befriending older people, providing them with regular contact with a friendly face; activity clubs where people can meet to prepare and share meals for those who struggle to cook; and mobile solutions to help people with dementia to get around.”

And with an aging population the problem will only get worse for future generations. One in three babies born in 2014 will live to celebrate its 100th birthday.

To alleviate the problem, people must take responsibility for the more vulnerable people they come across.

Hilary Thompson, Age UK Calderdale and Kirkless chief executive officer, said: “A lot can be acheived to tackle the problem if we accept individual responsibility.

“This winter, if you know there’s someone elderly living near you check on your neighbour to see if they need a helping hand.”

To read a special interview with Cynthia, our older person case study, click here