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If you know a lonely older person, try tea and empathy

Contact the Elderly has devised an innovative way to bring together isolated older people across the UK.
Chris_Silk

Contact the Elderly has devised an innovative way to bring together isolated older people across the UK.

One third of people say they are aware of lonely older people in their communities and one in four are aware but do not know how to offer adequate help. These are two of the startling findings from our latest research.

For more than 50 years, Contact the Elderly has been tackling loneliness and social isolation among older people through community action and face-to-face contact.

We recognise that a grass-roots approach is needed to solve the problem of social isolation. So, with the help of the general public and healthcare professionals, such as nurses, GPs and social workers, we hope to identify those older people who would benefit most from our service, simply by being introduced to a new group of local friends

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Contact the Elderly has devised an innovative way to bring together isolated older people across the UK.

Chris_Silk
Picture: Chris Silk

One third of people say they are aware of lonely older people in their communities and one in four are aware but do not know how to offer adequate help. These are two of the startling findings from our latest research.

For more than 50 years, Contact the Elderly has been tackling loneliness and social isolation among older people through community action and face-to-face contact. 

We recognise that a grass-roots approach is needed to solve the problem of social isolation. So, with the help of the general public and healthcare professionals, such as nurses, GPs and social workers, we hope to identify those older people who would benefit most from our service, simply by being introduced to a new group of local friends and neighbours.

This help has enabled us to set up free monthly afternoon tea parties for thousands of people aged 75 or over who live alone across the UK.

We cannot set up tea parties on every street, but we can encourage people to keep an eye out for their neighbours and help them to offer assistance in discreet but significant ways.

Limited mobility

The loneliest people are by definition usually the hardest to reach. It is not that they are not there, it is that they find admitting they are lonely difficult or they do not know our service is available to them. 

The tea parties are free and participants are provided with transport to and back from them, which means they can be enjoyed by older people with limited mobility. 

As the same small group of people meet each month, a familial feeling develops in the group and this has a positive effect on older people’s mental and physical well-being.

Our research shows that 60% of beneficiaries say their health and well-being has improved since joining a tea party, and 28% say they have taken part in other activities since joining. Of these, 54% say they have become more involved in activities because they feel more confident. 

These figures suggest that regular, face-to-face interaction with other people can make a real difference to the lives of isolated older people.

Referrals

Making a referral to Contact the Elderly is an effective way for healthcare professionals to help older clients stay independent in their homes, thereby relieving pressure on services and workloads.

‘The loneliest, most isolated people are by definition usually the hardest to reach’

Mary Rance

Contact the Elderly is active in more than 670 communities across England, Scotland and Wales thanks to a support network of more than 9,000 volunteers.

As demand for our service continues to grow, we are launching new groups at a rate of two per week.

I would encourage all healthcare professionals who work with older people to connect Contact the Elderly staff members in their regions to see how we can work together. 

Our team works with referrers in the community and is the first port of call for professionals who want to know how joining a tea party group can benefit their clients.

Connecting with Contact the Elderly in your community can mean a useful and mutually beneficial partnership that helps tackle the root cause of loneliness among older people.


About the author

Mary Rance is chief executive officer of Contact the Elderly

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