“A Christmas post already?” I hear you cry! Well it’s not actually that far off and there’s an important issue that needs highlighting sooner rather than later. Most of us will be spending the holiday with family and friends celebrating along with Christmas tree decorating, too much food (and drink), waking up to frosty mornings and It’s A Wonderful Life on television. But what about those people who will be on their own at that time of year, especially the elderly?
Holbeck Elderly Aid sees social isolation among older people as an all too familiar problem and actually the best gift they could receive this Christmas would just be a friend.
Neighbourhood support worker, Claire Holmes, talks about the case of Martin*, a vulnerable elderly gentleman, who was very isolated and lonely and became a very easy target for bullies.
Martin lived alone and became very socially isolated. His appearance was thin and frail possibly due to him not eating very well and generally not looking after himself. He was confined to his wheelchair after an accident and so had become very anxious and lacked confidence, losing trust in everyone. His problems were due to people claiming to be his friends who were coming to his property and taking money from him. The most recent issue was when he was burgled and his post office card was stolen. He was without money for over a month and had very little, if any food in the house. The Post Office would not issue a new card until he could pass the security questions, which he struggled to remember.
Martin needed support to get his life back on track and I really wanted to help tackle his social isolation. Holbeck Elderly Aid holds weekly lunch clubs and other activities for people to socialise and interact with one another and so I encouraged him to attend these. We can also help with food until he has the money to go shopping himself. Most importantly his confidence needing building up and he needed to be made aware of the dangers of leaving his doors open to unwanted visitors.
Since supporting Martin he has now started to trust us and often comes to the office for help or asking for food, which is a big step for him. We have been providing him with food parcels and going to the local supermarket for him to get his essentials. He has become much more settled and now attends our lunch clubs on Tuesday and Fridays and enjoys the company of having people around him, even if there is little conversation. Martin has asked us to speak with Adult Social Care to try and arrange him his own social worker and we are also working closely with the community matron, housing officer, warden and social services to protect him from harm and improve his quality of life.
There was one occasion where we were taking some shopping round for him in the day and when we knocked on the door there was no answer. We called out to Martin and he said hello but we felt something wasn’t quite right as normally he would get up to answer the door. It isn’t an agreed way of working to enter a person’s house uninvited, but on this occasion we felt it was the right decision to make. Martin seemed incoherent and wasn’t making much sense. He was also falling asleep in his wheelchair. I and my manager decided it would be best to contact the local surgery where his community matron was based and voice our concerns. The community matron came to see him within 10 minutes of us making the call. We feel this action prevented Martin from a possible hospital admission.
Martin will continue to be supported by Holbeck Elderly Aid while his issues are ongoing.
If you’re interested in volunteering with Holbeck Elderly Aid, it can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience for everyone. You will receive training and support, while the older person will receive a variety of services from Befriending to Day Trips. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like more information.
Friends of the Elderly also want you to think about what the #bestgift you could give to an older person would be – join in their Twitter chat here and #beafriend and if you are aware of an elderly neighbour that may be on their own this Christmas then it doesn’t hurt to pop round and check how they’re doing. After all “we want Leeds to be the best city to grow old in”.