Lockdown has had an impact on everybody this year, but it’s been particularly tough on the elderly residents living at home, in our Cambridgeshire communities. Whilst they’ve been shielding to protect their physical health, the implications of spending longer periods indoors, without seeing familiar faces, will have undoubtedly affected their mental health too. The feeling of isolation often leads to many more complex health issues, and self-neglect, but it’s not always easy to spot the signs.
Is loneliness increasing?
According to data from Age UK the percentage of people feeling lonely is pretty stable, but because of our aging population, the actual number of over 50s experiencing loneliness in the UK is set to reach two million by 2025. Cambridgeshire has an aging population, and family members can live many miles away due to higher education and work patterns.
As we teeter on the edge of returning to another national lockdown, this uncertainty is causing increased anxiety for many older people, and is causing frustration and feelings of guilt for their family loved ones that no longer live close by.
How do you know if someone is lonely?
Simply ask them “do you feel lonely”? Or “how often do you feel lonely”? It’s important to include the word lonely, as on hearing this word they will make sense of their emotions and feelings.
Loneliness doesn’t always look the same
It’s important to understand that isolation often leads to other problems too, depression and anxiety, mood swings, agitation and frustration, withdrawing into themselves. Loneliness can cause a lack of motivation, so loved ones may lose interest in some of the most basic daily tasks, and begin to neglect themselves, particularly with eating and personal hygiene. If it’s left unchecked, a gradual lack of enthusiasm can lead to serious issues with mental health, as this ‘hopeless’ behaviour can promote a cycle of decreasing self-esteem, further isolation and loneliness.
What are the causes of loneliness in older people?
In older people the causes are:
- When you Have no one to open up to, when they need to talk
- Are recently widowed
- Live Alone
- Are in poor or worsening health, lacking mobility
- Feel as if they do not belong in their neighbourhood
What can we all do to tackle loneliness?
There are many fantastic charities, volunteer groups, and community supporters in Cambridgeshire, but Raising Awareness and Providing Access to these is key:
- Neighbours and village communities can follow Gov guidance on Making a Support Bubble, A single adult living alone can join the family bubble of another household. “Adopt an older person in your community”
- Make contact through regular visits/phone/skype/zoom/FTime calls, around 10 minutes a day, asking them “how they are”, and “do they feel lonely”? There are apps that make it fun for young children to stay engaged in a conversation with their grandparents. By keeping in regular contact, it will help you to figure out whether they require extra support and spot the signs of a downturn in health or general demeanour.
- Remember helping others can give you an enormous sense of wellbeing. Which is why at Visiting Angels, we love delivering quality care.
Is loneliness something you can treat?
Speak with your GP or local home care service (Visiting Angels) about the option for an in-home care plan. If you’re not able to visit your loved ones personally, regular visits from an experienced care professional could give them comfort, alongside tackling two other problems: providing all-important human contact from someone who has your loved one’s best interests at heart and having someone who can support with everyday tasks/activities around the home.
Family members to stay positive
It’s crucial to look after yourself too. Try not to feel guilty for any feelings of loneliness your loved ones might be experiencing, just do your best to support them. At Visiting Angels Cambridgeshire we’re always asked how we can support vulnerable members of the community. People often think our services are only used when someone has a physical need, but they actually consist of much more than that – our companionship service is just as popular.
We’re passionate about instilling a sense of independence for our clients, so we nurture the relationship between the carer and client to a stage where they feel a sense of companionship, positively impacting mental health. Caring for those who are isolating or shielding is about encouragement, keeping them safe, interacting with people who care and ensuring they feel supported throughout this difficult time.
To find out about the services that Visiting Angels Cambridgeshire can provide to your loved ones during this time, please call 01223 455 945 / 01480 751731.
Managing Director of Visiting Angels Cambridgeshire, Ian Lintott.
1 Age UK: All the Lonely People 2018.