Loneliness in old age
Updated: Nov 30, 2021
Anna Chaplain, Eileen Simmonds, in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, has been reflecting on loneliness and the pandemic among people in their later years:
‘Loneliness is a major issue and I believe Anna Chaplains act as a positive force helping to counteract some of the damaging effects of it. More than 30 years ago we had three family widows staying with us for a holiday. One of them said how good it was to have someone to talk to over breakfast. I confess at that stage I had not previously considered just how lonely it can be to live alone after the death of a spouse. Of the three, only one is still alive, and at 97 she tells us she is not lonely at all, as she now lives with a niece. Another niece lives nearby and also a grandniece with a husband and a baby so she has lots of company and visits out. She is alone during the day, when her niece is at work, but happily reads and watches TV and looks forward to sharing a meal and company in the evenings.
I believe loneliness has grown and has been made much worse during COVID, as many of the social groups that functioned well pre-COVID have not been able to meet in the same way. It is good that currently more groups are opening up. Today I spent four hours supporting one such group and the benefits of belonging are huge and very evident.
As an Anna Chaplain prevented from visiting my care home I turned to a local Age Concern group, who needed telephone befrienders. It has surprised me just how meaningful and valuable it is. I am told that my calls are “the highlight of my week” and “I really look forward to talking to you”. Some of the people I phone have had to shield because of their medical conditions and it has been isolating and extremely difficult for them. I see the need personally to continue telephone befriending for the very elderly, who may still be housebound.
I still am able to do one-to-one home visits whilst these are permitted. The winter months with long evenings can be so lonely for older people on their own. This applies to those who may have loving, supportive families, who may visit every week, but the elderly individual still spends a majority of their days alone. I just love listening to their stories. Relatives give me great feedback. One lady I visit told me my visits give her a good reason to bake shortcakes!
Such one-to-one visits are even more needed for those without families able to visit or indeed who are without any family.
A recent Times article reported a study done by the University of Sheffield’s department of psychology, concluding that lonely people make more visits to their doctor and confirming that loneliness is particularly prevalent in older people.
It will be good when we as Anna Chaplains are able to more fully open up social groups for older people where they can meet, chat and contribute their skills, e.g. knit and natter and a vast range of other activities. I always enjoy reading about what other Anna Chaplains do and exchanging ideas. I constantly learn from other Anna Chaplains which is such a blessing.
I have always enjoyed meeting people of all ages and on a local neighbourhood walk we may meet 15–20 people. Since COVID I have deliberately said “Hello” to all and many respond so positively I wonder how lonely they may be.’
Eileen Simmons, Anna Chaplain, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex
26 November 2021