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Isolating the loneliness challenge

Matt Kennedy explains how housing professionals can help older people who feel on their own.

As I sit here typing, it’s a Friday. Many people will already have their weekend plans well in-hand, no doubt peppered with socialising among friends and family. But for many older people in Wales and across the UK the realities of being alone are all too profound.

Age Cymru have shed light on this often unrecognised issue as they highlight 75,000 older people in Wales have reported ‘always or often’ feeling lonely.

Its manifesto for tackling loneliness and isolation ‘No one should have no one’ calls on the issue to be treated as a public health priority and calls on local authorities to take the following steps:

  • Create safe, accessible built environments with places to meet that are easily accessible by integrated local public and community transport
  • Involve older people in identifying and developing solutions to isolation
  • Work with housing, transport, health, care, voluntary sector organisations and GPs to deliver practical and emotional help to tackle loneliness
  • Provide services that prevent or manage loneliness and isolation at life stages which are likely to increase loneliness, such as bereavement, having to stop driving or moving to a new home or residential care
  • Agree specific local actions to reduce loneliness and monitor and evaluate their impact.[1]

All of the points above strike at the heart of how the housing profession can have a substantial impact working across sectors on tackling this issue. For example, GPs who are seeing someone regularly as a result of loneliness manifesting itself as anxiety, depression or stress could benefit from working closely with housing professionals who may have the local knowledge needed to address these needs, moving away from medicalising the issue.

In many instances, professionals across the housing sector are often at the centre of ensuring a sense of community, links to local resources and initiatives to increase connectivity through technology are well utilised. Models of housing such as sheltered accommodation and extra care have advanced significantly to ensure creating spaces and opportunities for regular social contact is as important as the foundations upon which the scheme is built.

With cuts to local authorities hitting amenities that once provided the social infrastructure of regular contact, questions are rightly being asked on how this challenge will be addressed. As a sector we can provide the best homes possible in the right places but without the local resources to support vibrant communities the impact of housing on wellbeing is reduced.

One solution to ensuring these links are made could be via greater awareness and use of systems like Dewis – an online database launched to make the public and professionals aware of local initiatives and activities that support greater wellbeing. In Scotland the ALISS (A Local Information System for Scotland) has in a similar vein, been utilised to monitor and highlight local community activity that could benefit individuals that GPs, housing professionals and other can readily access as they face to face conversations with people. These systems should rightly be in the toolbox of professions interacting with anyone who may benefit from greater awareness of local activity – younger carers, older people, job seeker – the benefit may be truly vast.

The approach aside, what remains vital is that we engage with this call for a national dialogue around addressing loneliness and isolation. As the housing challenge intensifies, meeting the needs of an ageing population must be one that encompasses all aspects of what it means to live well and as a famous telecommunications company once highlighted through its adverts – ‘it’s good to talk’.

[1] http://www.ageuk.org.uk/cymru/policy/age-cymru-policy-publications-1/no-one-should-have-no-one-tackling-isolation/

Matt Kennedy is policy and public affairs manager at CIH Cymru

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