OLDER people should be encouraged to join choirs, read to young children in schools and learn to use the internet as part of a package of measures to bridge the intergenerational gap and alleviate loneliness, a watchdog has said.
In new guidance aimed at increasing independence and staving off loneliness, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) said older people needed to be told about activities in their area.
It said councils should do more to offer group activities, such as “singing programmes, in particular, those involving a professionally led community choir”.
Arts and crafts and other creative activities should also be promoted, alongside walking groups.
Nice said there was a need to offer “intergenerational activities - for example, older people helping with reading in schools or young people providing older people with support to use new technologies”.
Technical support would help older people get to grips with mobile phones and internet-enabled TVs and computers, it said.
The new guidance also suggests ways for older people to maintain friendships, such as through befriending programmes in places of worship or home visits between people of similar ages.
The mental health benefits of volunteering should also be made much more clear to pensioners, Nice said.
Professor Gillian Leng, director of health and social care at Nice, said: “Ageing affects everyone differently. There are many factors which contribute to someone’s ability to remain independent, avoid loneliness and maintain their mental wellbeing.
“This new guideline includes advice on putting this into practice, for example by looking at what is already in local areas and how it can be improved - are there any transport difficulties, do the older people know there are activities and services available?”
Nice said staff in contact with older people should be aware that certain life events or circumstances are more likely to increase risk of physical and mental decline. For example, older people whose partners have died in the past two years are at risk.
Alan Maryon-Davis, honorary professor of public health at King’s College London, said: “Independence and mental well-being are hugely important in maintaining a sense of self, especially in our later years.
“This new Nice guideline sets out clear ways for the NHS, local authorities and the voluntary sector to help people aged 65 and older maintain their independence and mental well-being for as long as possible.”
The Yorkshire Post has been campaigning to raise awareness of loneliness as a healthcare priority since February 2014, with figures from the Campaign to End Loneliness showing that between five and 16 per cent of people over 65 say they are often or always lonely.
Kellie Payne, learning and research manager at the campaign, said: “It’s encouraging to see that Nice now recognises loneliness as a serious public health issue, which has an impact on mortality and physical and mental health in later life.”
More than 20 volunteers and older people from Yorkshire attended a Downing Street party on Tuesday to raise awareness of loneliness at Christmas.
Hosted by David Cameron, guests were joined by finalists of the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing and the Prime Minister used the occasion to highlight great examples of community work in the North of England.
Find out more about The Yorkshire Post’s Loneliness: The Hidden Epidemic campaign, which aims to highlight and tackle social isolation in Yorkshire, here.