Ethan Shone 7th October 2018
Maybe its our inbuilt islander mentality, or a hangover of the Blitz spirit. We value stoicism and stiff-upper-lip-ism, lionise those who soldier on through in silence, and we hate to appear vulnerable. Particularly for older generations, the thought of reaching out and asking for help, or even just some company, is too much like making a fuss. Pride always stands out among the supposedly deadly sins as an odd one, but in the case of elderly people feeling apprehensive about admitting that they need or would like some help, it no longer seems like a stretch.
A number of recent reports and studies commissioned to look at loneliness in Britain have demonstrated the scale of the problem. All The Lonely People, published last month by Age UK, found that a quarter of people aged 50 and over feel lonely some of the time, a further one in 12 feels lonely often, and that due to our ageing population, as many as two million people aged 50 or over will often feel lonely by 2025/26. The report also points out that loneliness is similarly common in all age groups, even among young people, Though loneliness is a social problem, it can have significant and detrimental effects on both physical and mental health, increasing the chances of sufferers developing coronary heart disease, high blood pressure and depression. It’s been found that loneliness increases the risk of mortality by similar amounts to both obesity and smoking.
Thankfully, in recent years, we have started to recognise the prevalence of loneliness and the damage it can cause, and placed greater importance in combating it. One tiny good that came from the tragic assassination of Jo Cox MP was the highlighting of excellent and vital work carried out by Cox on the cross-party Loneliness Commission, which she set up with Seema Kennedy MP. This work is continued in Cox’s legacy, and has among other things, led to the government instating the first ever Minister for Loneliness in 2017 (technically, the brief of Sport and Civil Society was expanded to specifically include loneliness).
Another organisation which has been striving to end loneliness among the elderly is the Sir Simon Milton Foundation, the organisers of Silver Sunday, which will see around 1,000 events all over England put on for free, specifically to offer opportunities for elderly people to socialise. Events range from a cricket match at Lords and a walking-football tournament organised by Chelsea FC Foundation, to meditation sessions, dances and country walks.
The event has grown considerably since its launch in 2012 in Westminster, London, which saw 2,000 people take part in 19 events held within the area. Each year has seen more events hosted and more elderly people getting involved; over 750 events took place all over the country in 2017.
Silver Sunday has this year released a highly moving film, featuring an interview with 86 year-old Rosemary, a retired NHS worker from Pimlico, London, who attended a tea dance on Silver Sunday in 2017.
Thanks to Silver Sunday and the Sir Simon Milton Foundation, thousands of people all over the country who, just like Rosemary, feel alone and like a prisoner to their own isolation, will come together in their communities, and hopefully forge friendships and bonds that will enrich their remaining years immeasurably. These friendships will go beyond the day, and so should the spirit of this event, of organising to actively combat loneliness and support those who suffer from it. Christabel Flight is a trustee of the Sir Simon Milton Foundation, she says: “We believe that by highlighting and combating the issue of social isolation with great vigour on one day a year, we will all be inspired to do more to celebrate and connect with older people the rest of the year as well. We have it in our power to change the story on loneliness and ensure the elderly live more fulfilling and healthier lives.”
What can you do?
If you’re reading this today, then check out the list of Silver Sunday events, see what’s on in your area and get involved. Bring along your elderly friends and relatives, encourage a neighbour, or volunteer. Most importantly though, whatever you’re able to do today, think about the elderly people in your life – or anyone, really – who might be isolated and lonely, and think about ways you can reach out.
The NHS offers a useful guide on how to help lonely elderly people, which stresses the importance of starting conversations, offering practical help and accompaniment, and sharing your time.
Ethan Shone 7th October 2018