Loneliness Awareness Week 2021: Tackling Isolation

LifeCare is marking loneliness awareness week by announcing the vital support it has offered to hundreds of the most vulnerable and isolated local older people through the crisis to date.  Since March 2020, the charity has supported over 770 elderly individuals with vital positive support designed to protect and maintain the physical and mental health of some of the most isolated older people living across the City.

LifeCare’s professional and committed care workers and volunteers have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to safely deliver essential registered care, practical help within the home and adapted usual companionship activities to ensure isolated older people received the support they needed to stay well.  The charity also launched several new initiatives, such as their hugely successful meals on wheels service, specifically designed to help support the most isolated and lonely local older people.

The health impacts for older people who are lonely are well-known, including a greater likelihood of developing clinical dementia and becoming more susceptible to depression.   Studies also show that chronic loneliness and isolation can be as life-limiting and as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.  Pre-pandemic, a TNS Survey for Age UK found that pensioners in Edinburgh were the loneliest in the UK, with many spending less than an hour a day socialising.  In many cases, families are geographically distant from their loved ones and increasingly people do not know their neighbours, others in their communities or have time to stop for a chat with locals.

As the crisis struck, the charity grew extremely concerned about how older people would cope with usual in-person services, day clubs and activities all closed, and many clients told to shield.  They feared many older people living in local communities would go for a significantly long time without seeing or speaking to anyone else.  Unlike other younger generations, many clients do not have access or the ability to use virtual technology such as FaceTime or Zoom.  Without the right support, this whole new level of loneliness created by COVID-19 could cause a rapid deterioration in an older persons health and abilities. LifeCare therefore worked hard to ensure all those in need received the care they needed to survive and to maintain their strength and abilities to be able to return to the communities they hold dear once able.

Margaret Stewart, Care Service Manager at LifeCare said “Loneliness is regarded by many working across social care services as one of the largest health concerns for older people.  This has never been more worrying.  Throughout LifeCare, we worked tirelessly to ensure no client in need went without our dedicated support and contact.  We quickly adapted to ensure we could safely continue our registered care in people’s homes – we have delivered over 7,500 hours of registered care through the crisis to date. We made necessary changes to continue our practical help at home services – delivering over 10,000 hours through the crisis to date. We introduced new phone call services to check-in with those living alone and introduced a new dedicated call support system for carers of those living with someone with dementia – in total we have made over 4,300 calls to carers most in need. We set up shopping services and prescription collection services which would come with a call to take orders and a doorstep visit to say hello at a distance.  

Thanks to funding from Barclays, we also launched our hugely successful Meals on Wheels service for the most isolated.  We have so far delivered over 7,000 meals and each comes with a phone call to take the order, have a chat and then a non-rushed safe companionship visit at point of delivery.  For the over 55s we moved our community engagement activities to Zoom and these have never been more popular.  Another huge achievement has been the continuation of our partnership project Vintage Vibes, this dedicated friendship programme, specifically designed to target loneliness and isolation, has delivered over 3,200 hours of phone calls so far.  

Collectively this support has provided vital companionship for our older communities, be that practical support to enable a person to continue to live independently, a friendly face, a welcoming call, a non-rushed visit and just offering something to look forward to.  Thanks to the dedicated support offered by our professional staff and volunteers we have helped to protect the physical and mental health of some of the most isolated and lonely older people living in our communities.”