As wintery conditions start to bite, it is more important than ever to think about the older people around you. Particularly those who might be alone and vulnerable because of the lack of family and friends, or who are unable to get out and about. Cold weather can mean an increase in the incidence of heart attack, stroke, respiratory disease, influenza, falls/injuries and hypothermia.
Loneliness is also a major issue, figures from Silverline, a national helpline for older people showed that in the first six months of their operation in the winter of 2013/14, 53,000 calls received were from people living alone who said they have absolutely nobody else they can talk to. Age UK’s website tells us that 1 million older people go a month without talking to anyone.
These are all well known facts, and there are local and national initiatives to help vulnerable people living alone. But we can make a difference. If you know an older person, or a couple why not pop in or give them a ring to see how they are and check that they are staying warm, well and safe. Age UK’s advice on health and wellbeing recommends at least one hot meal a day, with hot drinks and a balanced diet, and there is lots more information about winter wellbeing. So what can you do?
One young couple in Barwick in Elmet, Will and Lauren, decided that there would be at least one less vulnerable older person at Christmas by inviting an older person to have Christmas dinner with them. With the support of one of the Leeds neighbourhood networks, Garforth NET, they were put in touch with George who is 91 and lives alone in his own house. He was facing the dismal prospect of Christmas Day on his own. They visited George to get to know him, and then on Christmas Day picked him up from his house to spend the day together.
Lauren said, “It was very easy to organise, Garforth NET had been concerned about George being on his own on Christmas Day and were delighted when we contacted them, we got on with George straight away and found we had plenty to talk about, especially Dolly Parton, as George and I are both big fans”.
George spent a lovely day with Will and Lauren, enjoying a drink and a home cooked Christmas Dinner. Neighbours also popped in to see George with a Christmas present. He also was introduced to Facebook, and has decided he would like to learn how to use a computer.
George said “I really enjoyed Will’s cooking, and it is hilarious that my picture is on Facebook”.
It is the start of a new friendship; Will and Lauren speak to George on the phone regularly to check he is ok, have taken him some shopping when he couldn’t and are arranging to meet up with him again soon.
So what you can do to help older people this winter? Leeds Older Peoples’ Forum have produced a map showing where all the neighbourhood networks are in Leeds. Get in touch with them to find out how you can help.
NHS Choices website offers lots of ideas of how you can help together with links to other useful websites, or Age UK has an advice line, open 365 days a year. The number is 0800 169 2081.