One of the biggest challenges facing older people is a very simple issue but one that can lead to all kinds of problems – loneliness.
Because of the change in societal structure where families tend to be spread across a much wider geographical area, isolation, particularly among older people, is an increasing problem. Even in urban locations, older people can still feel increasingly alone and disconnected from their community.
In Scotland, a group is working hard to turn back the tide of loneliness for hundreds of elderly people across the country. Contact The Elderly makes it their mission not just to reduce the isolation suffered by hundreds of older people, but to break down the generational barriers too, by getting young people involved in the charity. And this is nothing new – the charity has been working tirelessly in the background for over 50 years.
Small and friendly
The organisation runs tea parties for the over 75s. But rather than taking over a local village hall or community centre, volunteers actually open up their own homes to smaller groups, making it a much more intimate and friendly affair. Smaller groups often allow timid or shy members to feel more relaxed and more likely to interact, ensuring that everyone gets the human contact we all need.
The first Contact The Elderly group in Scotland laid out its first spread of tea and cake in Glasgow in 1971. Since then, the network has expanded to 123 groups across the country, from city centre groups to more rural get-togethers. Around 900 guests are supported by 1300 volunteers from the Borders to the tip of the Highlands. With so much of Scotland covered by rural, scattered hamlets and with older people now feeling more isolated than ever, it’s an important lifeline that’s firmly based in the community.
Weeks without contact
According to Age Scotland, around 100,000 older people living in the country can go for an entire month without speaking to anyone or any human contact. Age Scotland’s campaign ‘No One Should Have No One’, more than 200,000 go for days with no visitors or phone contact of any kind. That kind of isolation can lead to severe depression, which in turn can make long-term illnesses often suffered by the elderly even more complex.
But not only is the Contact The Elderly helping to relieve that isolation and loneliness that older people suffer from – it’s also helping to bridge the gap between the generations, too. Guests who attend the parties love meeting younger people who have opened their homes to the charity, giving the hosts a chance to talk to older members of the community and connect with them on a much more personal level.
It gives the younger generation an opportunity to find out about life before, during and immediately after WWII, as well as how rural life in Scotland has changed over the years. It also means that stories that have been passed down through the generations have a chance to find a new audience.
Banishing the Sunday blues
Contact The Elderly say that the tea parties are a huge success, and that 95% of the guests regard the weekly events as something to look forward to. 76% of those asked by the charity say that Sundays in particular are a lonely time, and that the scheme has broken through that barrier. Volunteers don’t need to commit much time to make a real difference, and that there is still more the charity can do to reach out to isolated older people across the country.
Morna O’May, head of service in Scotland for Contact the Elderly says: “We are truly committed to extending the lifeline of friendship to as many older people as possible. Loneliness in the older generation is a sad reality; one that is going on behind closed doors in every town and city throughout Scotland.
“We also know there are older people we are not reaching. We would like to encourage anyone who thinks they might know someone who would benefit to get in touch.”
Contact The Elderly can be reached here or by calling free on 0800 716543