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Age UK enlists nurses’ help to tackle loneliness in older people

Pilot scheme by charity Age UK is helping nurses identify lonely older people and refer them for support
man with laptop

A pilot programme by charity Age UK involving nurses is helping to combat loneliness in older people, early findings show.

The scheme, involving eight local Age UK services in England, has been testing methods to reduce loneliness in older people. These include raising awareness among ward nurses, hospital discharge teams and practice nurses of the common characteristics of loneliness. Staff can then refer people to Age UK for additional support.

Following a referral, Age UK staff and volunteers carry out loosely structured interviews with the older people to understand their life circumstances, interests and the kind of support that may help them feel less lonely.

Tailored support

Some older people were matched with volunteer befrienders, introduced to social groups or other like-minded individuals. Others learned IT skills

A pilot programme by charity Age UK involving nurses is helping to combat loneliness in older people, early findings show.  


Nurses have referred lonely older people to support such as IT skills training Photo: iStock

The scheme, involving eight local Age UK services in England, has been testing methods to reduce loneliness in older people. These include raising awareness among ward nurses, hospital discharge teams and practice nurses of the common characteristics of loneliness. Staff can then refer people to Age UK for additional support.

Following a referral, Age UK staff and volunteers carry out loosely structured interviews with the older people to understand their life circumstances, interests and the kind of support that may help them feel less lonely.

Tailored support

Some older people were matched with volunteer befrienders, introduced to social groups or other like-minded individuals. Others learned IT skills to help them stay in touch with friends and family, or were given practical support after a fall or illness. 

More than 1,000 older people took part in the pilot. Some 80% of 92 older people who had said they were often lonely, and 70% of 207 people who were sometimes lonely reported feeling less lonely after taking part.

'It’s not so much about being alone,’ said one participant. ‘It’s about being lonely, sometimes even when people are visiting. I’m feeling happier and less nervous now.’

Chronic loneliness in older people leads to an increased demand on health services, because individuals are more likely to develop conditions such as heart problems, depression and dementia, says the charity.

Increase in referrals

Age UK South Lakeland in Cumbria, one of the eight Age UK services taking part in the programme, has received around 150 referrals from hospitals in the past six months. Previously, only a handful of referrals from hospitals were made, according to Age UK South Lakeland deputy chief executive Hugh Tomlinson. The service normally relies on older people referring themselves for support.

Mr Tomlinson added: ‘In the main, we wouldn’t be aware of the older people until they reached a crisis point. This lets us access them before they decline and that is phenomenal.’

University of Nottingham school of health sciences associate professor Ruth Pearce said loneliness needs to be ‘escalated’ in the minds of healthcare professionals.

She added: ‘Healthcare professionals should start looking for it through any opportunities such as home visits and hospital discharge planning.’

The pilot programme is to be tested further by Age UK.
 


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