Planning is the key to beating loneliness


Social isolation is a growing problem in the community but it can be prevented.

According to Jewish Care, there are twice the number of Jewish people aged 60 and over compared to the general population, and one in three adults across the age spectrum lives alone.

The elderly are especially vulnerable to becoming isolated, but Sonia Douek, Jewish Care’s head of volunteering, says the problem can be anticipated and managed.

She said: “It is important to plan before you reach that age and are in danger.

“Young people plan for the different stages of their lives so just because you are older it shouldn’t mean you stop planning.

“We need to encourage that more in the community. People who are older often just define themselves by their working role because it is what they have spent time doing.

“But if you don’t have a sense of who you are as a person before your job or keep it going alongside it, then it is going to be hard to find things to keep you engaged in later life.

“We think people should be planning for later life as early as their fifties in terms of reducing the likely hood of social isolation.

Retirement was often the trigger for the onset of loneliness, Mrs Douek warned.

“People retire without having the conversation ‘this is what I’m going to do next’.

“This is why Jewish Care is planning seminars, to help individuals think and plan for getting older.”

She added: “It could be planning for travel with friends, volunteering in a area you are interested in. Thinking about short courses you might like to do. It is all down to each person.”

The Jewish Care seminars will happen three times over the year and encourage people to prepare for later life by looking at the social and financial issues that they may have to face. The first seminar is due to take place on May 17.

She said: “It is good that there are already plenty of activities out there for people, but it is about encouraging people to start thinking about what will occupy them well before then.”

Anna Goodman, spokeswoman from the Campaign to End Loneliness, agrees that planning is key, but emphasises the importance of retaining friendships into old age.

“While all the groups and projects available to the elderly are good, we think it is important for people to think about their social networks as much when they are older as when they are young,” she said.

“People who are older tend to plan solitary activities. They might go along to a group, but it should be planned around their social networks wherever possible.

“That is really important. It is about maintaining and nurturing those relationships into later life.”
Laura Alcock-Ferguson, director of the campaign, said that allowing friendships and other relationships to dwindle could have a serious effect, not least on an individual’s health.

“Weak social connections are equiv-alent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day as a risk factor for early death, and loneliness can increase the risk of developing conditions including depression and dementia.”
She welcomed efforts to raise awareness of the serious impact loneliness can have.

“We all have a part to play in reducing loneliness in our communities and this is why the JC campaign has been important,” she said.

For some, the everyday task of managing bills is enough to trigger loneliness.

Bayla Perrin, co-founder of the Paper Weight Trust, said: “People think of loneliness in terms of not being engaged or involved in things or without strong networks, but it is not always the case.

“It can be something as simple as those who are living alone and find the administrative complexities of modern life overwhelming, and for a number of reasons they have not given it a thought.”

The trust offers support to people struggling with domestic administrative tasks – “those who suddenly feel lonely with no one to turn to, and it can get worse quite quickly”.

For 35-year-old mother Suzzie, being young and sociable did not stop her from feeling isolated after a divorce meant that she had to take over the bills on top of being registered blind.

She said: “It was an overwhelming and isolating feeling. You feel stupid and you don’t want to talk about it with the people that you love because you don’t want to be seen as stupid.

“Loneliness is not just about the elderly because I’m very young. It is about feeling empowered, young or old.”

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