I have been well aware for many years that many people who attend surgery regularly are lonely. Some of our frequent attenders or callers are clearly lonely and I have often heard a receptionist state,”I think she or he calls because they are lonely.” I am aware that it can cause illness or be as a result of illness and therefore affect recovery.
Loneliness is not feeling part of the world. You might be surrounded by loads of people but… you are [still] lonely.
Not only can loneliness lead to mental-health issues but studies proved that it can also be more dangerous than obesity and smoking.
A study has found that chronic loneliness has been shown to increase the chance of dying early by 14 per cent, which is as bad as being overweight and almost as bad as poverty in undermining a person’s long-term wellbeing. It is linked with higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the morning, which raises the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Loneliness is also linked with higher blood pressure and a weakening of the immune system.
Earlier this year, researchers at the University of Chicago aimed to quantify the effect that loneliness had on the elderly’s wellbeing. Led by Professor John Cacioppo, their report, entitled Rewarding Social Connections Promote Successful Ageing, discovered that feeling lonely increased the risk of heart attacks, dementia, depression, and could disrupt sleep, raise blood pressure and lower the immune system. In short, loneliness is as bad for the health as that nasty 15-a-day Marlboro Light habit.
One possible explanation for its link with ill-health is that loneliness seems to make people sleep less deeply. Lonely people tend to suffer from brief “microawakenings” in the night, which may reflect a nervousness about being alone at night, he said.
Research found that your body’s inflammatory response to illness can be affected by loneliness.
Last week, a survey by the Office for National Statistics found that Britain is the loneliest country in Europe in that people are less likely to have strong friendships or know their neighbours than inhabitants of any other country in the EU.
Loneliness is a massive issue for people in later life in the UK. Half of all people aged 75 and over live alone, and 1 in 10 people aged 65 or over say they are always or often feel lonely – that’s just over a million people.
Shockingly, half of all older people consider the television their main form of company.
HOW FEELINGS OF LONELINESS CAN BE OVERCOME
We can all help if we make the effort to acknowledge people around us. On the French TGV trains there are signs which suggest that passengers should help others with luggage of ask if someone if they want a drink from the buffet car.
I find it sad that it has to be advertised rather than be something that people did without prompting.
I am sure many of us will have helped lonely, vulnerable people simply being a good neighbour and carrying out small tasks. Even just passing the time of day can be very meaningful to someone who lives alone.
When the medical students are assigned to the practise I often introduce them to patients who live alone and encourage the students to sit and listen to what these patients have to say. There have been many magical moments when I have watched the older person suddenly ‘come to life’ as they relate tales of their earlier life. Moreover, I have observed the fascination of the young student as they listen. On one occasion after a patient was telling the student how she worked as a maid in a country house the student retorted “So the life in ‘Downton Abbey’ really did happen!”
To tackle the problem of loneliness among older people, Age UK has developed befriending services. The service works by assigning each older person a befriender, who provides friendly conversation and companionship on a regular basis over a long period of time.
Many local Age UKs provide befriending services, some by telephone and some where a volunteer visits the older person at their home. This vital service provides a link to the outside world and often acts as a gateway for other services and valuable support.
To volunteer as a befriender, call 0800 169 6565 or contact your nearest Age UK to find out what befriending services they offer.
Every once in a while an idea comes along with the potential to truly make the world a better place.
Suspended Coffee is one of those ideas.
*First, it’s simple. You walk into a coffee shop and instead of buying just one cup of coffee, you buy two, or more. You buy one for yourself and one for someone in need.
*Second, it’s direct. You do not need to worry if your money is going to actually help someone or just to take care of a charity organization and its overhead and expenses. You also do not need to worry whether or not your recipient will use your gift to buy alcohol or drugs. You can directly control which food or beverage you would like to donate.
*Third, it’s win-win. You not only support a person in need, you also support your local business and all its employees. Your money does not go to another state, country or continent. It stays right in the neighborhood where it was spent.
*Lastly, it can be used for more than just coffee. You could buy a hot bowl of nourishing soup, a filling sandwich, water, fruit, bread, or a full meal. Suspended coffee’s simplicity makes it easy to duplicate with other food items.
The history of suspended coffees
We entered a little coffeehouse with a friend of mine and gave our order. While we were approaching our table two people came in and went the counter. “Five coffees, please. Two of them for us and three suspended.” They paid for their order, took the two and left. I asked my friend: “What are those ‘suspended coffees?’” “Wait for it and you will see” he answered. Some more people entered. The next order was for seven coffees and it was made by three lawyers – three for them and four “suspended”. While I still wondered what’s the deal with those “suspended” coffees I enjoyed the summer weather and the beautiful view towards the square in front of the café. Suddenly a man dressed in shabby clothes who looked like a beggar came in through the door and kindly asked “Do you have a suspended coffee?” He got a coffee for free – no charge – he sat down and took a sip and a smile ran through his face. It’s simple – people pay in advance for a coffee meant for someone who cannot afford a warm beverage. The tradition with the suspended coffees started in Naples, but it has spread all over the world and in some places you can order not only a suspended coffee, but also a sandwich or a whole meal.
After reading about the above story, John Sweeney created the Facebook page Suspended Coffees. Soon after that something amazing happened. People loved the page and the simple but amazing gesture of a suspended coffee. Over 260,000 people have joined the page since March 27, 2013.
The nearest participating café to the surgery is:-
CAFE OAK TREE
Acton Central Railway Station, Churchfield
Road, Acton, London England
Either find your local participating cafe on the website or suggest that your local café participates.
To learn more about this now worldwide idea click on the link below:-
What difference can one person make?
“While wandering a deserted beach at dawn, stagnant in my work, I saw a man in the distance bending and throwing as he walked the endless stretch toward me. As he came near, I could see that he was throwing starfish, abandoned on the sand by the tide, back into the sea. When he was close enough I asked him why he was working so hard at this strange task. He said that the sun would dry the starfish and they would die. I said to him that I thought he was foolish. There were thousands of starfish on miles and miles of beach. One man alone could never make a difference. He smiled as he picked up the next starfish. Hurling it far into the sea he said, “It makes a difference for this one.” I abandoned my writing and spent the morning throwing starfish.”
However,it is possible to overcome loneliness becoming a problem by finding ways of meeting other people with common interests.
A new patient I saw recently told me about ‘Meetup’ helped move her life forward following her recent divorce after 30 yrs of marriage. It gave her chance to get her life back on track and overcome the feelings of rejection and isolation.
Meetup is an online social networking portal that facilitates offline group meetings in various localities around the world. Meetup allows members to find and join groups unified by a common interest, such as politics, books, games, movies, health, pets, careers or hobbies.
There are also many Meetup groups which are neighbours getting together to learn something, do something, share something…
You don’t need to be an expert to organize an awesome Meetup. You just need something you care about and a desire to bring people together.
They will help you find the right people to make it happen. Most Meetups start getting members within the first few days. Plans are free for 3 months.
Another organisation which is very active in Ealing particularly for retired and semi- retired people is:-
This movement is an unique and exciting organisation which provides, through its U3As, life-enhancing and life-changing opportunities. Retired and semi-retired people come together and learn together, not for qualifications but for its own reward: the sheer joy of discovery!
Members share their skills and life experiences: the learners teach and the teachers learn, and there is no distinction between them.
A Brief History of the University of the Third Age (U3A)
U3A was founded in 1981 by three friends, all distinguished in their own field and embarking on the “third age” of their lives. Peter Lazlett, Eric Midwinter and Michael Young. They met in Cambridge to discuss the intellectual and cultural prospects for older people. France had already set up in 1972 their Universités du Troisieme Age and some Cambridge academics saw this as their model. Peter Lazlett made a visit to the continent and on his return pronounced the organisation admirable in its way but too elitist – Second Agers, mostly men, deciding what Third Agers should learn. The three friends knew that older people were perfectly capable of teaching each other. It is this mutual learning principle, forming a learning cooperative, which marks our organisation in the UK from other U3As around the world. The three set about getting the organisation off the ground.
The U3A movement is supported by its national organisation, the Third Age Trust.
Interest Groups are the heart of the U3A movement. Groups meet mainly in each other’s homes. Someone with particular expertise and knowledge takes on the role of teacher, leading each session. Alternatively, a member acts as secretary and helper with group members taking it in turn to lead a meeting. Groups generally meet fortnightly or monthly and everyone pays 20 pence a meeting to cover tea and coffee. If a class is full we have a waiting list and start a new group as soon as possible.
To join a group, telephone the contact name on the programme sheet or approach them or a committee member at a Thursday meeting. If you cannot attend Thursday lectures you can still join a group, but must pay the membership subscription. Ealing U3A is always looking for new interest groups. If you would like to lead or suggest a group please contact a member of the committee.
U3A is a worldwide movement which seeks to encourage older people to take part in educational and cultural activities and help them to teach and learn from each other in friendly and informal settings. U3A is also keen to include the housebound and the disabled in its educational and cultural activities. No qualifications are required to join – and no qualifications or degrees awarded. Members are encouraged to see the value and take pleasure in learning for its own sake.
EALING U3A – a co-operative of older people sharing educational, creative and leisure activities. The motives for joining are a desire to improve and share your knowledge and experience, to keep your mind active, to enjoy leisure pursuits and to socialize with like-minded people. No qualifications are needed and none is given. You share learning and leisure experiences across a wide range of activities through a network of self-managed groups. Members have access to our weekly talks on a wide range of topics, for example science, history, politics, literature, music and many more.
Meetings are held weekly, on Thursday mornings in Ealing Town Hall
You should aim to arrive at 10.05a.m. The venue is indicated on the Town Hall entrance noticeboard. It is usually in the LIZ CANTELL room.
Meetings begin with announcements and in-house business. This is followed by the speaker’s presentation during which there is usually a break of approx. 15mins. The proceedings finish at 11.45-12.00.
They can participate in the various interest groups, in leisure activities such as rambles and visits to interesting places as well as in the occasional short courses. Learn about all of these by searching
TELEPHONE CONTACT FOR THE ELDERLY
Last year, the Campaign to End Loneliness estimated that more than a million people in the UKfeel trapped in their homes and around five million older people consider television their main form of company.
So many people feel bereft and lonely when they lose a partner or become ill and frail and are confined to their home. In November 2013 funded by a £5 grant from the Big Lottery a free 24-hour dedicated helpline for older people across the UK was launched by Esther Rantzen.
“We will signpost them to the services in their community, and by showing them we value them and care about them we will restore their confidence and feelings of self-worth. It is tragic that older people are so undervalued and isolated that they believe life is not worth living and that they are no longer part of the human race.”
Modern technology is now proving a great help for people to be in contact with relatives throughout the World using Skype and emails but it is not a total substitute for personal contact.
Several years ago I remember a dear lady who came to surgery with great discomfort in her neck and arm. I asked her if she had been doing too much polishing or sleeping in the chair. ” No doctor, I am afraid I have a confession to make!” she claimed. I sat curiously awaiting some deep revelation. ” Well it was my 90th birthday and I treated myself ( 90yr olds don’t buy luxury gifts for themselves) to a laptop and I have been spending hours getting to grips with it!” In more recent years I have noticed that some of the more senior patients have acquired laptops or tablets which they can use to contact their friends and relatives locally and throughout the World by Skype or email.
Many people also find that having a pet, such as a dog or a cat, can also help reduce feelings of loneliness. If you know an older person living alone and struggling to find motivation to get out, It may be very beneficial for them to visit with your pet. Ask them to pet-sit for you or see if they’d be interested in fostering a homeless pet. The more people interact with pets, the more likely they are to interact with other humans and shrug off depression. I’ve seen more than one case of a pet literally saving their owner’s life, just by being there. Not infrequently I have started a consultation by asking about a patient’s pet usually by name and found that their whole demeanour changes. In one case a patient confided that it was his pet Guinea pig that saved him and even arrived with photos for me! Many people need a reason to get up in the morning, go for a walk, and visit the shop. Without a purpose, many older people fall into harmful patterns of behaviour that ultimately lead to depression, illness, or worse. Many times the best prescription for healthier living comes with four legs and fur.