New Housing Professional 2018 finalist blog: Teri Power
Teri Power from Monmouthshire Housing Association sat in on a session exploring social isolation and loneliness among older people on day one at TAI 2018 which was delivered by Rebecca Mollart from Erosh.
‘1.5m older people go at least 6 days a week without speaking to someone’. This figure is truly shocking considering the fact that social media and digital inclusion are becoming an essential component to current society and getting connected to others is considered as simple. Loneliness and isolation is a common theme amongst elderly individuals but have devastating consequences which I am very passionate about preventing.
As a social inclusion officer I support extremely vulnerable individuals with a range of complex needs and not surprisingly the older generation take up a large portion of my work load.
As part of the TAI Conference I attended the Erosh session which analysed all aspects of loneliness and isolation among elderly. It looked at the physical impact of loneliness and/or social isolation on the older generation, for example a few of these were depression, suicide, health issues, dementia and insomnia. Loneliness can stem from a number of issues like personal circumstance (lower income, moving to a new area), physical and mental health, personality (anxiety, shy), environment (fear of falling, perception of crime), access to IT and trauma (bereavement, retiring, becoming a carer). I had an example of this where Mr X became very withdrawn and low in mood after retiring, he was so used to the organisation and structure of working that he retired he felt ‘lost’ and lonely. I combatted this by supporting him into a volunteer placement and helping him join the U3A to express his passion of debate and history.
Identifying people in need can always be a challenge due to the fact that everyone deals with issues in their own individual way. Within the session we looked at how to identify those at risk from an individual’s point of view, these could be things such as, sudden changes in behaviour, health related issues and any safeguarding issues.
The session did stimulate ideas for improvement within my area of work. Rebecca discussed that there was a direct correlation between older people feeling lonely and visiting the GP, visiting A&E and suffering from depression. This is something I have personally looked into in my role within supporting individuals and empowering them to access the community. Erosh suggests that older people are 1.8x more likely to visit the GP if feeling lonely. This could be an area to make improvements, currently I gain referrals from various areas, for example, social services, volunteer groups, organisations such as GDAS, Mind. However, I have never received a referral from GP surgeries which I believe is a missing partnership. For example, GP’s could look at the idea of making a non- medical referral and social prescribe. This way, if GPs recognised signs of loneliness they can make direct links to support within the community to improve mood and there may be less reliance on antidepressants.
An interesting point was made that could be analysed by Monmouthshire Housing is using repairs data to pinpoint activity within households. For example, if an older person is constantly contacting the repairs line they could be desperate for company. In contrast, if someone was inactive and not contacting the repair line at all then maybe they need to be supported as there may be issues with loneliness. A strategic view would then be to map areas where people are most isolated and we could look at ways to combat this.
Positive relationships give us a sense of belonging and identity and empowers us to cope with stress and change. By identifying loneliness and isolation early we can attempt to prevent/combat this worldwide issue.