Tackling Loneliness at All Ages

Christmas is a time for family and for celebration, but for many, the festive season is faced alone.

The Institute of Public Health in Ireland and the Bamford Centre for Mental Health and Wellbeing, Ulster University, recently held a seminar in Belfast on the theme of ‘Loneliness & Ageing – A Public Health Issue’.

The talks includes subjects such as Loneliness, social isolation and social exclusion: the differences and does it really matter? by Professor Brian Lawler of Trinity University Dublin, and Health and loneliness in later life by Professor Vanessa Burholt of Swansea University, alongside talks from Campaigning to End Loneliness UK, ALONE and Commissioner for Older People for Northern Ireland.

Siobhan Sweeney from the Public Health Agency began her conference talk, Loneliness in later life – public health responses, with a story to illustrate the importance of having opportunities to have meaningful conversation as we grow older.

Within the same week, the Co-op, in partnership with the British Red Cross, launched their campaign to tackle loneliness and social isolation. Commissioning leading social researchers Kantar Public, they found that 88% of people agreed that loneliness is a serious problem in the UK, affecting people of all ages.

Their research identified eight ways to help people reconnect with their communities:

  • Give a sense of purpose
  • Be peer-led or co-designed with people in similar circumstances
  • Be local and easy to access
  • Be free or affordable
  • Instil a positive sense of identity
  • Provide clear goals and pathways to reconnection
  • Provide benefits to others (such as through volunteering)
  • Bring people together around shared interests

Volunteering and participating in community activities such as a book group or sharing reading group can be a great way to conquer a feeling of loneliness and help establish new connections.

Sinead Devine of Reading Rooms, who attended the seminar in Belfast: “The Reading Rooms project runs across Northern Ireland to reach the most marginalised in our communities and those who are most removed from enjoying high quality literature using the shared reading model. When we aim to reach older people, we understand that they are not a homogeneous group and we try to reach as wide a range of older people as possible. To this end we link into so many different groups that work with older people; for example; older people living with mental health difficulties as we do in the Northern Trust, or those with learning disabilities where we have worked with Praxis in Derry/Londonderry, Willowbank in Dungannon and The Base in Magherafelt, as well as those in nursing care and day care or attending specialist care groups such as Chest, Heart and Stroke and the Stroke Association.

“This attention to detail ensures that we capture those most socially excluded and offer them opportunities to make links and relationships through the stories we read and the conversations that unfold. For many older people it offers the opportunity to tell their own story and for that to be valued. This in turn helps care workers to learn more about their service users. The end result is that our Reading Rooms help to ease isolation and loneliness for many older people.”

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