Sunday, 28 October 2007

1.25 million OAPs 'always lonely'

Almost 300,000 pensioners have gone a full month without speaking to family or neighbours in the past year, according to the charity Help the Aged. Research published last week painted a bleak picture of isolation for many older people in Britain, with more than 1.25 million of them always feeling lonely.

The charity has now launched its new campaign to combat loneliness, with the slogan "1 is the saddest number." While a proportion of Britain's 11.4 million pensioners enjoy a more prosperous and fulfilling retirement than their predecessors, there are many thousands of elderly people who feel abandoned and alone, the charity said. This Christmas it aims to provide 25,000 festive meals for older people to enjoy with friends at day centres across the country.

Help the Aged said a £4 donation would cover the cost of a meal, which would have a huge impact on an older person' enjoyment of Christmas, and it was campaigning to raise £100,000 before the end of the year. In the spring, it wants to recruit more volunteers to reach out to the loneliest people in society and befriend people suffering from chronic isolation.

Research conducted by the charity found that currently 29 per cent of pensioners have to rely on family and friends to get out and about, but 2000,000 of them are trapped in their homes as they receive no help on a regular basis. Help the Aged said that 730,000 elderly people are unable to leave their homes more than once a week. More than a quarter of people aged 64-74 and almost half of those over 75 live alone. This is compared to one in eight people aged 24 to 44.

The charity estimated that, in 50 years, 7.5 million pensioners could be living alone - the equivalent of more than a third of the elderly population. Anna Pearson, policy manager for Social Inclusion at Help the Aged, said, "For many younger people, the thought of being old and lonely is their ultimate fear for the future, yet for thousands of older people in the UK today it is their harsh reality.

There is no substitute for human warmth and contact and our aim with this campaign is to ensure older people no longer feel abandoned by society. We know that something as simple as getting out of the house, to meet, eat with and be with other people can have a lasting effect, so please help us to really make a difference to the lives of hundreds of thousands of older people this Christmas and beyond."

Source: Reading Evening Post 10/26/07

In the Methodist Church we have a system whereby at least every member (and very often every regular worshipper) is allocated a pastoral visitor and I expect that other denominations have similar systems. Even so, I have sometimes known of older people who have had no visitors and so have stayed in bed all day or not bothered to get dressed, simply because they have ceased to expect anyone to ring their doorbell. When this is discovered the social services put them into a council-run retirement or nursing home, when all that they need and long for is to feel valued, loved and cared for and still part of the community.

Today our emphasis is on attracting younger people - and it is quite right to try Fresh Expressions of Church for them - but are we in danger of neglecting large numbers of elderly people who crave more than the monthly prayer in church (with a list of those unable to get to church now) or the occasional bunch of flowers after a stay in hospital? It is costly, difficult work to care for all these housebound elderly folk, many of whom were stalwarts of our churches in former times, but surely we should be doing at least as much to help as Help the Aged is proposing?

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