On every street in Scotland there will be at least one older person who feels lonely all or most of the time. There will be two who go half of the week without human contact. Their only form of company is a pet or the TV.
It’s hard to imagine just how crippling loneliness can be, but picture sitting in a packed Murrayfield as Scotland score a try to win the Calcutta Cup. The crowd roaring. The noise and atmosphere incomparable. Now imagine the same stadium with each seat occupied, sitting in absolute silence for the whole day.
That’s how many older people spend Christmas day alone. It’s heart-breaking – and it could affect any one of us. For older people it can happen as a result of retirement, bereavement, illness, moving home to somewhere new and unfamiliar or the kids moving out of the family home.
Loneliness is not exclusive to older people but I see its effect on them every single day. Our charity is committed to tackling loneliness and isolation with almost everything we do having measures to do so at its heart.
Help could be a phone call away for many lonely, older people.
I am proud of the work our Community Connecting Service does and the positive impact it has on the lives of lonely older people. It is one of the flagship free services we offer older people in Scotland and it all starts by calling the Age Scotland Helpline on 0800 12 44 222.
The Age Scotland Community Connecting Service staff and volunteers work with older people across Scotland to help make contact with local community services that offer friendship, social activities, health and fitness groups and events. The service helps to identify what is available locally, and assists older people to access these services by making contact on their behalf and by helping identify transport options to get people to and from the group.
To ensure sustainable support, our team will find out what interests the older person has, and their ability and ambitions to ensure that the group or activity they have joined is something that continues well beyond the first visit. We keep in touch with calls of encouragement and friendship should any extra support be needed and offer further opportunities with groups in their area.
All of our work to tackle loneliness and isolation is scalable.
Our ambition is to build on this service to help more older people enhance their social connections and improve their quality of life. We’re not the only ones. Charities and groups the length and breadth of Scotland are doing great work on this every day but it needs support or it will become difficult to maintain and grow.
The Scottish Government started the year as a world leader on loneliness and isolation by setting out its vision to tackle this national problem. Age Scotland worked hard to put this issue on the government’s radar and, along with great numbers of others, contributed practical ways upon which the government’s draft strategy could be enhanced and embedded across the work of the First Minister’s cabinet.
As the months have progressed, Wales and England appear to be making headway but there is an unnerving silence from the Scottish Government on how its own plans shape up. It is vital that they get this right.
Loneliness doesn’t discriminate by age, gender, ethnicity or location, but it is in our gift to effectively tackle it if, as a country, we make it a national priority. If you are over 50 and looking to take the first step to improving your social connectedness, or are a group that supports older people in this way and want us to help connect people to you, please give our Community Connecting team a call on 0800 12 44 222.
Brian Sloan, chief executive, Age Scotland