Loneliness: How large is the problem?
United for All Ages found that 9 million people are suffering from loneliness in the UK. Almost half of these are older people, and over a million people say they are always or often lonely.
What can we do to tackle loneliness?
Community is key. Feeling part of a loving and supportive community is essential for people to feel included, happy, and secure.
For some, family will be a big part of feeling supported. It’s important that families are included and considered, especially in a care home setting when, often, they have been involved in finding the right home for their loved one. Keeping families involved in activities and inviting them to events can go a long way in reducing loneliness and isolation.
Encourage multi-generational integration
While retirement villages are often thought of as beneficial for increasing feelings of community, there is a growing feeling that multi-generational living could be a better option.
There are almost 750,000 houses in the UK designated as ‘retirement units’ and it’s been recommended that this needs to grow to over 1.5 million. However, discussions have been ongoing in the sector about how integration could be a better option.
Rather than build separate living facilities for older people, building villages that encourage the integration of different generations could be more effective to combat loneliness experienced by everyone from older people to new parents and children.
Villages designed with families, older people and young children in mind could be an effective way to help all generations integrate. Open green spaces with lots of areas to sit, talk and play could go a long way in helping older people and Mason home care residents feel part of the community and less isolated.
Community hubs and clubs
While creating and designing villages with community integration in mind might take some time to achieve, there are things we can be working on straight away to make an immediate impact.
Setting up community hubs can be a quick way to encourage more engagement and integration in communities; especially as existing locations could be re-purposed and used to house these initiatives.
The Children’s Commissioner for England has even suggested that schools could be used during out-of-school hours to host events and regular clubs for the wider community. Care homes are also being touted as potential locations to host events and clubs in partnership with local groups.
Community choirs, performing arts groups and craft, and cooking clubs are all examples of clubs and groups which are often open to a wide range of age groups. Working with local groups can be a perfect way to integrate care home residents into the community.
Sports and activities
Like clubs and events, sports and activities have always been a popular way to get people together. It also has the added benefit of healthy living and improving well-being.
The Youth Sport Trust, for example, runs a scheme where school volunteers meet with older people from care homes and community groups to understand what types of activities they’d be interested in, and set them up in the community.
The most important element here is communication and integration. Yoga, for example, is a great activity suitable for all ages. Any moderate activity, like walking, could be a good option to bring people of all abilities together too.
Some communities have set up weekly walking clubs to help make sure people of all ages are getting outside and active. These can be a great place to boost heart health, mental heath, and build new friendships.
Volunteering, initiatives, and events
Many charities have initiatives specifically designed to tackle loneliness, as well as events that can get people out into your community.
One-off events such as Macmillan’s Coffee Morning and the Great Get Together, are hosted throughout the UK. Many local libraries, universities, and local cafes also host weekly coffee mornings designed to bring people together on a more regular basis.
Many schools run volunteering initiatives where school children will work on educational projects with older people in their local care homes. Volunteering can also be a great way for care home residents to integrate with their communities more.
While formal volunteering may be too much commitment for some, there are lots of informal volunteering opportunities focused on wildlife and the outdoors like Woodland Trust’s Nature’s Calendar, which runs all year round and the annual RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch and the Big Butterfly Count. These are flexible and help people to connect with nature and the outdoors.
More effective integration of care home residents and the wider community is the key to reducing loneliness and isolation for everyone. Care homes are often well equipped to host events, clubs, and activities and can work with local groups to bring generations together.
Silas Campbell is the Head of Marketing at Blueleaf.
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