As another Christmas approaches and the Third Sector gears up their efforts to ensure that those facing isolation and loneliness are supported at such an important time, a worrying trend appears to be emerging.
Faced with the fact that, as our new research has found, some 2.5 million people over 65 wouldn’t know where to go to get support for loneliness – it seems that our A&E and GP services are being increasingly visited by lonely individuals. Indeed a new report by the Scottish Parliament released just last week generated headlines that loneliness is prompting older people to visit their GPs and A&E.
Perhaps rather than falling back on easy stereotypes about ‘bed blocking’ and indulging in lazy ageism, we should make a real effort to understand the factors which are leading to so many older people finding their way to A&E. We need to think about how they can be better supported before arriving at the hospital doors, and once they leave, how we can reduce the shockingly high number of readmissions amongst older people.
There are of course countless reasons that lead to older people ending up in this situation. But here, we want to emphasise the role that loneliness and social isolation can play. Loneliness and isolation must be taken into consideration; firstly when examining underlying causes of why people end up at A&E, and secondly, when trying to identify solutions. These solutions should be focused on preventing the escalation of care need and avoidable hospital admissions and readmissions.
A study from the South West Academic Health Science Network showed a clear link between social isolation and care needs in people over 75 admitted to A&E. There are many reasons why this is this likely to be the case, such as:
- Loneliness increases the risk of hypertension and associated conditions such as stroke or heart attack
- Loneliness is also known to put individuals at great risk of cognitive decline and the onset of physical disability
Lonely adults are more likely to be smokers, and loneliness is a maintaining factor in alcohol abuse and in attempts to give up alcohol. There is also some evidence that older people who are lonely are more likely to be readmitted to hospital. Older people can be especially vulnerable and frail following a stint in hospital, and often require careful management of their health conditions. Currently, 13 per cent of over-75s are readmitted within three months of discharge, and whilst most are relieved to return home once discharged, some older people feel anxious at the prospect, particularly those living alone.
There are some fairly simple steps, which have proven to be highly successful in reducing admission and readmission to hospital, working specifically with lonely and isolated people. A good example of one of these interventions is the Dorset Befriending Service. The service was originally designed to increase self-confidence of patients who were identified as needing emotional support, and who were making numerous visits to their GP surgery, sometimes with unexplained symptoms and were also seeking admission to hospital at night. It was considered that the main causes were loneliness, panic and an inability to cope with life. The costs to the NHS were huge.
Generally, befrienders, either on the phone or in person, offer support and reassurance. They also encourage the older people they work with to engage in social activities. GPs at the surgery reported fewer appointments for the older people involved and an assessment of the GP and unscheduled hospital visits of six of the participants prior to and post their participation in the scheme indicates significant cost savings for the NHS (£80,000 for these six alone).
To understand why support services such as this are successful, we need to get to the bottom of why people are returning time and time again to their GP and to A+E. Local authorities place heavy emphasis on the primary prevention of poor health – such as smoking cessation, housing, and ‘winter preparedness’ to reduce excess winter deaths. We strongly advocate that services to prevent or alleviate loneliness and isolation should be invested in as part of a primary prevention programme to maintain independence in older age for longer and ensure everyone has the connections they need in later life.
This article has had one comment
Yes we agree with comments to help end loneliness and isolation and we want to get this message out further too – When my life changed this year, I wanted to continue to do something to help make a small difference in my local community to tackle this problem of isolation and loneliness, so we set up the Link Visiting Scheme for Poole & Wareham in Dorset under the National Link Visiting Scheme banner -to launch 14th &15th projects in the country to help combat this issue .
I now am the volunteer co-ordinator for The Link Visiting schemes in Poole & Wareham this scheme helps many people who find themselves alone after their spouse passes away or are isolated perhaps due to illness or disability. For one reason or another they just don’t get out as often as they would like or see as many people as before.
This is where The Link Visiting Scheme comes in, we provide a someone with whom you can chat in your home, someone to take an interest and perhaps take you out for a coffee. – or to one of our Link Activities or local club if your able.
The Link Visiting Scheme relies on volunteers to deliver our service. You don’t need any special skills as you will receive training and support during your time as a volunteer.
Volunteer – commented “When I first started befriending, I thought it was just for the benefit of the elderly person whereas in fact, we have both blossomed” ”
Client commented – ” My volunteer’s warm welcome gave me a feeling of being wanted, restored my confidence and with frequent visits and Link activities I have managed to get back on my feet- I cannot thank The Link enough for helping me get my life back again”.
Therefore if you know someone who would benefit from having a regular visitor, or your would like to volunteer –
We need your help!!! – we need more volunteers or if you are able to support us with a donation to help sustain our work- we’ve started making a difference but we also now need more help to continue the project and to help more people in our locally community.
To find out more- please contact the team either by telephoning 07470045120 or emailing: email@example.com . ( National web site is http://www.linkvisiting.org.)
1 Hour a month or your time could help and older person this winter. !!! – Here at The Link we want to play our part to make a small difference to help someone else this year and we hope you feel the same way too.
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