More than one million elderly people say they can go for more than a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour, or family member. In addition, the fact that more health problems are prevalent in later life will also impact on the ability of an elderly person to get out and about and therefore talk to others. This feeling of isolation can have a huge effect on physical health and mental wellbeing.
My mum and dad had been married for over 60 years and were devoted to each other. My dad died just before Christmas in 2010 and my mum spent Christmas time in her home grieving for her husband. I was Head of a Senior School at that time and due to work commitments could not see mum as much as I would have wished. She was lonely. Once a week she would take a taxi into town to walk amongst people and then go and sit in a café for a cup of coffee and a chat with kind strangers.
Yes it did worry me. Mum would sometimes go days without seeing anyone and would wait for my evening phone call to talk to someone. I would visit every two weeks and take her shopping and out for a drive but the fact that I felt I was never doing enough constantly dwelt on my mind. I did not talk to anyone about this issue thinking that as I was the Head of an organisation I needed to deal with this on my own and not let it interfere with work. How many employees do the same and silently struggle on when a chance to open up to an employer could ease those guilty feelings?
It is important therefore that employers know those employees who are carers or who support elderly relatives who are living alone and are lonely. Feeling lonely has been linked to further complications in an elderly person’s health such as the increased risk of heart problems, depression and cognitive decline. This in turn will lead to extra pressure on the immediate family who may have to seek additional care for their relative as they become less mobile.
What can organisations do to help support their staff who work hard at their job and then go home to juggle family life with the care of an elderly relative too? Staff need to be able to access advice and support for themselves and their family members. The workplace seems the most sensible place to seek that help. Surely then that would be good for productivity and the retention of valued staff?
There are volunteers to chat to 24 hours a day if loved ones are feeling lonely :
Silver Line: 0800 470 80 90
Age UK: 0800 169 65 65
But if more support is required such as a daily companion to help with shopping, cleaning and most importantly that one to one connection, Parental Choice can help. We can link with your organisation and source a companion to support an elderly relative in the home, alleviating anxiety for the family who will know that their loved one is being cared for and most importantly has that personal interaction during the day.
Lindsey Abbott – Eldercare Researcher, Parental Choice.