Older people in the North-East facing an ‘epidemic of loneliness’

A CHARITY has issued a stark warning that older people in the North-East are facing a mounting mental health crisis due to isolation during the coronavirus pandemic.

A new survey carried out by Age UK North Yorkshire and Darlington shows that 95 per cent of those who responded have felt lonely during the lockdown.

The survey showed that 70 per cent of older people had felt lonely at least some of the time, and 25 per cent said they felt lonely all of the time – an increase of ten per cent on pre-lockdown figures.

Now, the charity is launching a ‘Good Friends’ campaign to attract more volunteers to help combat an “epidemic of loneliness”.

It has also seen an increased number of safeguarding alerts because of a rise in older people reporting suicidal thoughts.

The Age UK branch is concerned that the crisis over isolation will continue after the lockdown, with 35 per cent of those surveyed saying they would continue to self-isolate, and 50 per cent unsure. Only 16.7 per cent said they feel confident about going back into the local community.

Chief executive, Helen Hunter, said: “We have been shocked by the number of cases of isolation we are finding on a daily basis, with a significant increase in the number of older people needing our support.”

Since the end of March, the charity has distributed more than 7,000 hot meals to the homes of older people, as well as more than 700 emergency food parcels. It also provides a befriending service, as well as collecting shopping and prescriptions.

However, with the easing of lockdown restrictions leading to more people returning to work, the charity is now in need of long-term volunteers.

Age UK North Yorkshire and Darlington is collaborating closely with key partners – including local authorities, public health bodies, and other charities – to tackle the problems facing older people.

Mrs Hunter said: “Our ethos, as an organisation, is to help older people lead the best lives they possibly can. It is our duty to work collaboratively with our partners who are carrying out incredible work in unprecedented circumstances.

“We are also immensely grateful for the help volunteers have given us throughout the pandemic so far, but we now need more to come on board. We cannot go on providing much-needed services without volunteers – and that is why we are launching the Good Friends campaign.”

Age UK North Yorkshire and Darlington has a strong track record in the management of volunteers, employing a dedicated volunteer manager, and being presented with the Queen’s Award for Volunteering in 2018.

Mrs Hunter said that increased isolation had resulted from members of the older generation having to shield, with many being “digitally excluded” and, therefore, unable to take part in online communication with families and friends.

She added that shopping was an issue for many older people because it had become a very different experience during lockdown, with those who are frail finding it difficult to queue.

“We have a duty to help people to emerge from lockdown as much as they are comfortable with, but many remain anxious about the risk of infection,” said Mrs Hunter.

“As a result of the lockdown, we are also discovering more people who have slipped through the net – people who were coping to an extent before, and, therefore, hadn’t been receiving statutory services.

“Not going out so much is having an impact on physical health as well as mental health.”

She cited an example where a person with a life-changing illness had called the Age UK branch because the condition had deteriorated significantly during lockdown and they were having problems preparing food and needed to have hot meals delivered that were ready to eat.

The Good Friends campaign covers the following areas: Darlington – including surrounding villages; Hambleton – including Northallerton, Thirsk, Easingwold and areas nearby; Richmondshire – including Richmond, Catterick and the upper dales; South Craven – Skipton, Glusburn, Bolton Abbey and the surrounding areas.

Being a Good Friend can include: Delivering hot meals and food parcels; Collecting shopping and prescriptions; Popping round for a cup of tea and a chat; Accompanying someone to an activity in the community; Assisting with light household tasks; Putting someone in touch with nearby services; Help with walking the dog; Keeping in touch to check someone is okay.

Anyone who wishes to become a Good Friend, should contact Volunteer Manager, Lynn Walton, on 01325-362832 or at lynn.walton@ageuknyd.org.uk

The Northern Echo | Durham