Carol Nevison: The small acts of kindness that can end isolation

0
Have your say

IT can be easy to assume that as we get older our interests change. What was en vogue in the 1980s would look out of place today. But when it comes to matters most close to our heart, such as our favourite sports team, the passion rarely diminishes.

IT can be easy to assume that as we get older our interests change. What was en vogue in the 1980s would look out of place today. But when it comes to matters most close to our heart, such as our favourite sports team, the passion rarely diminishes.

So imagine you’re a fanatical Castleford Tigers fan. You have a season ticket, you go to every home game. You have a routine; you meet your friends in the pub, you have a pint before the game, you share the highs and the lows.

But as we get older, getting out and about can prove more difficult.

Fewer of our friends might be able to get to a game on a Saturday and it becomes less of a social occasion than it used to be. Instead of being able to go to the game every week, you find the only option is to watch it on the TV at home, alone. Feelings of loneliness start to set in.

A couple of years ago, Royal Voluntary Service conducted research which found that 190,000 older men in Britain are lonely, and that 44 per cent have two or fewer face to face conversations a day.

This is a shocking statistic that we want to change, which is why we decided to look into the causes of loneliness among older men. The results make for unhappy reading.

Loneliness comes in many guises. It can creep over you slowly, or it can hit you suddenly – such as when a partner or close friend passes away.

We found that the main trigger of loneliness among older men is bereavement, and we already know that older men find it particularly difficult to admit that they’re struggling and could use a helping hand.

The health effects of loneliness are not something to be sniffed at or taken lightly.

There is widespread agreement among experts that loneliness is a serious health issue, because it makes it more likely that older people will develop illnesses that reach crisis level and need hospital care.

But even though loneliness is a serious problem we need to combat, the solution can be seriously simple. Previous research we conducted found that 85 per cent of older men who suffer from feeling lonely, feel better after seeing friends or family.

This is why it’s vital that more people come forward to volunteer to help older people stay happy and independent.

Volunteers to support older gentlemen like Roy, aged 80, who calls the community centre he visits and which is run by volunteers his “lifeline”.

Twenty-five years ago, Roy’s second wife of five years suffered a heart attack and was rushed to hospital in a serious condition; she had only a limited recovery.

Roy gave up work and became her devoted carer until her death in 2009.

He took her death very hard and she left what he describes as a huge hole in his life; he became very depressed.

Roy heard about the Royal Voluntary Service community centre and now visits the service one day a week.

He has become confident and motivated.

“The centre has given me my life back,” he says. “I’m enjoying old age. I’m having the time of my life.”

To help older people like Roy regain their confidence and enjoy, rather than endure old age, more people are needed to help older people stay happy and independent.

There’s strong research to suggest volunteering has health benefits, that people who spend time helping others are healthier and happier in themselves, so signing up to become a volunteer really is win-win.

Just because we get older, we don’t stop enjoying the activities we always have, like having a pint in the pub with friends before a rugby game. It’s just that the logistics, such as getting to the game or managing the steps in the stadium, become a bit more difficult.

We know that many older men, given the choice, would prefer to spend time with male companions, with whom they share common interests and can discuss topics like sport.

That’s why we teamed up with Castleford Tigers for our Manhunt campaign, to help recruit more male volunteers who can help older men continue to enjoy the things they have always loved.

Through small acts of kindness, such as offering to take an older friend or neighbour to enjoy a game and watch a team they have supported their whole life, we can make a real difference and play a vital part in making Britain a great place to grow old.

Carol Nevison is the Royal Voluntary Service’s head of operations for the North.