We need to do more to help our isolated elderly

This week we launch a three-part series on the scourge of loneliness - and what each of us can do to end it. We begin with a look at the scale of the problem


Since Vicky Minsky's husband died, she lives alone. With her eldest son more than 200 miles away, she can go weeks without seeing anyone, with only a television for company.

It is a familiar story. According to Age UK, some five million elderly Britons are socially isolated, relying on TV for company.

A recent study from Brigham Young University in the United States found that loneliness carries the same level of health risk as obesity.

Sonia Douek, Jewish Care's head of volunteering, says it is an even bigger problem for the Anglo-Jewish community, and one we are struggling to address properly.

"We have twice the number of people aged over 60 compared to the general population. One in three adults in the community live in single households. And yet the majority of our energy and resources is directed towards young people and families.


One in six
Jewish households in England and Wales with a person aged 65-plus living alone
The percentage of Jews in their 80s living alone
The UK Jewish community has twice the number of people aged over 60 than the general population

"Community leaders are less aware of the challenges facing the elderly because they think we have such good welfare options. That is true; but it leads to many older people feeling undervalued and alienated."

Age UK puts the number of "chronically lonely" people in England at 800,000. For Mrs Minsky, who is 85 and lives in Hendon, north-west London, the problem is alleviated by daily visits to Jewish Care's Michael Sobell Community Centre in Golders Green.

"It keeps my brain alive," she says.

But she acknowledges that "there comes a time when you are so lonely that you stop bothering. You don't have a wash, you don't get dressed, you leave your dressing gown on and you stay like that for the whole day.

"I would be like that if it wasn't for the simple fact a Jewish Care bus comes and picks me up and takes me to the art club.

"People think loneliness starts when you lose someone but it doesn't - you can be a couple who are lonely too.

"I just can't get around the same way but my mind is still there. All I want to be given is the chance to physically use it."

According to Jewish Care's Ageing Well report, published last year, older members of the community are disappointed with the lack of creative and stimulating activity provided for them.

Mrs Douek said: "Current provision of activities for older people within the Jewish community was described by some as 'God's waiting room', with few opportunities for intellectual and personal growth.

"They don't just want a sympathy visit - they want to be engaged.

"We need to ask the elderly what it is they need to engage them. It is not always about inviting someone over to dinner on a Friday night.

"We speak to a lot of people who say that it is nice to be asked, but they say things like 'what can they bring?' and people say 'nothing'.

"But actually they want to bring something - they want to feel like they are involved and have a part to play even if it is small."

As the community get older, synagogues need to play a key role in helping elderly members of their congregations feel included.

"They need to work just as hard engaging the elders with activities as they do the young ones," says Mrs Douek.

"I think it is easy to forget about the older members until there is a welfare issue. We are great at taking soup round or making visits when we know there is a problem or that someone is ill.

"But we need to provide things based on what people can do, not on what they can't, and that is what makes a difference."

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