WITH 40,000 people about to spend Christmas alone, there is a lot of work to be done to tackle loneliness, writes Brian Sloan
‘I’ve spent most of this year sitting at home waiting to die.” – Margaret from Dumfries said those words to me when I met her as part of a campaign Age Scotland was running on community transport in 2012. Those words have always stayed with me; I wish this was the only time that I’d heard something similar but it’s not.
For Margaret, loneliness and isolation was about not being able to access her community and thankfully, a bus was set up that connected her.
However, this was just one victory and with research showing that there are 40,000 people who will be spending Christmas alone, there is so much more to be done. Indeed with one in tenolder Scots, about 100,000 people, feeling lonely some or all of the time, this is a problem that Age Scotland tackles all year round. As more research is done on loneliness and the effects it has on humans, the more you begin to realise why this is one of the biggest health crises of our time.
Being lonely is as bad for your health as having a 15-a-day smoking habit and is twice as bad as being obese. Loneliness does kill, it increases the risk of death by 10 per cent and can exacerbate heart disease, blood clots and cancer.
For many, these statistics can be shocking, and I make no apology for making people feel uncomfortable because the solution to this problem is painfully easy. Simple human connection is all that’s needed. When some older people are actively encouraging nuisance phone calls to hear the sound of a human voice then you can truly begin to understand both the tragedy of the situation but also the solution to it.
At Age Scotland, we provide help and support to more than 1,000 member groups all across the country.
Groups who provide a diverse range of activities that all fulfil the same problem – making older people feel a part of their communities.
We also, in partnership with The Silver Line, deliver Silver Line Scotland, a 24-hour, freephone helpline which provides information, advice and most importantly, friendship to older people who ring up.
Whether for yourself, a friend or relative, you can call Silver Line Scotland on 0800 4 70 80 90.
At this time of year, we are highlighting the issue of loneliness and isolation with our campaign, “No-one should have no one at Christmas”. We are encouraging people to donate to Age Scotland to support our work throughout the year.
By texting LONE15 £5 to 70070 you can help us to provide information and advice services to one older person. We can connect people with their communities and with your donation we can do so much more. Age Scotland, through our member groups, support 250,000 older people in Scotland but the job of ensuring ‘no-one has no-one’ goes wider than one charity.
The Scottish Government, local authorities and the person in the street all have a role to play in combatting loneliness. So what can you do?
Well apart from donating to Age Scotland, you can volunteer with us, Silver Line Scotland or with groups in your area who will always be happy for your support.
When research shows that two in five older people say that their only company comes from the television, we must act to stop the tragic health consequences of loneliness and isolation. So we ask – how could you help someone to have someone?
How can you make that connection that can make someone’s day? It could be as simple as knocking on an elderly neighbour’s door, picking up the phone to call a relative, or offering an older person a lift to the shops or community centre. These are the simple connections that are so easy to give but for the recipient, can change their life.
• Brian Sloan is chief executive of Age Scotland