MP Mims Davies, the Minister responsible for Loneliness, said in and interview with The Telegraph this week that we all have a ‘moral duty’ to ease loneliness in the elderly.
She advised that we make like the Mediterraneans and give inter-generational holidays a go, saying: ‘When we are a little bit more bold about how we do things, we find so much more joy in it.’
Having gone on holidays with my lovely nan and granddad for my whole life, I can wholeheartedly agree. It’s brilliant.
We’ve played bingo at holiday camps together, and sat on sunny beaches watching the world go by. They’ve overseen me jumping in the pool as a toddler, and seen me off to sketchy Spanish nightclubs as an adult.
It’s all I’ve ever known when it comes to family holidays, so it actually seems strange that people wouldn’t invite their golden oldies along for trips. But then it also seems strange and sad that we need government intervention into being lonely in the first place.
Loneliness is a growing problem here in Britain, with one third of people asked in the biggest study ever on the topic saying they feel lonely often or very often.
However the study – which had 55,000 respondents – actually found that young people reported feeling lonely more than the elderly, and that living alone didn’t always mean more feelings of loneliness.
Essentially, it’s not as clean-cut as simply being around the elderly (whether that’s during a holiday or for a regular visit), checking up on them, and making loneliness go away.
We need to find a way to have less superficial interactions, which will help both ourselves and those who may be more isolated for whatever reason.
We spoke to Age UK ’s Charity Director, Caroline Abrahams, who said: ‘Families taking older relatives on holiday is a good idea for those who are able to, but many older people may not have family who can offer this kind of support. We can all make a huge difference to the lives of older people living alone, even by doing something as simple as checking in on them.’
Holidays are a privilege that not everyone can afford, and sometimes there can be quite a few limitations.
Does everyone involved have the disposable income to go on holiday? Can your elderly relatives find adequate travel insurance? Will there be issues travelling with children and those who might have mobility or memory problems?
Similarly, a number of elderly people don’t actually have family to rely on.
If you have the capacity to make your small family holiday a bigger one, then definitely give it a go. If you don’t, you don’t need to feel like you’re shirking your moral duty.
There are plenty of day-to-day ways to help others – and yourself in the process – where you don’t have to pack a suitcase.
A meaningful conversation may seem like an obvious or patronising recommendation. But if you truly asked yourself when the last time you checked in on someone without ‘checking up’ on them, you may find it’s longer than you care to admit.
Forget the small-talk, or the checklist of things you normally ask to make sure they’re okay. Ask questions you wouldn’t normally ask, and do things you wouldn’t normally do.
Instead of dropping by and asking if someone has taken their medication, have a girly day with your nan or do some gardening with your grandpa. It’ll benefit you as much as it will them.
I found that firsthand when I moved in with my nan and granddad for a few months earlier this year; bridging the generation gap is less an act of service and more a learning curve.
Obviously you can’t simply go up to someone and ask if they’re lonely, which is why an invite for a coffee or to come and do a big shop can help someone come out of their shell without feeling like a burden.
Caroline continues: ‘Having a friendly chat with an older person on the bus or in a shop, or offering to help an elderly neighbour with their shopping if the weather is bad can do more good than most of us would ever guess, and at very little cost to ourselves. In fact I guarantee you’ll feel better too as a result. GPs can also help by sign-posting to local services that help people to stay connected.’
There is no moral duty to solve everything in the world, and it can actually be difficult being told as a young person that the responsibility of older people’s loneliness lies on your shoulders (especially when more of us deal with such things).
But, when you’re having a whisky and watching Bargain Hunt with Jean down the road, I bet you’ll be loving it. And if you do end up going to Benidorm and painting the town red… Even better.
Age UK's tips for helping a lonely elderly person
Visiting an older friend, relative or neighbour regularly
We can all take action and help the older people in our lives. Whilst visiting older relatives can be challenging if they live far away, research from Age UK shows that making the effort to keep in touch can make a big difference to older people, who may be stoical and reluctant to admit when they are struggling to cope.
Starting a conversation
It might seem obvious but simply being friendly and prepared to stop for a chat can give a vital boost to someone who may not have another conversation that day.
Accompanying your neighbour to a local event
Christmas provides many opportunities for local communities to get together, whether it’s an event at a local church, a Christmas market or a party. This could be a great opportunity to strike up a conversation with someone in your street to see if they’d like to go too. If this goes well you could see them again and make it a regular occurrence.
Offering assistance on extreme weather days
As winter takes hold the risk of extreme weather increases, making life hard for older people who might struggle to leave their homes as a result. This could be the perfect opportunity to introduce yourself to a potentially vulnerable neighbour, for example to see if they need some help with shopping.
Speak to Age UK
Older people and their families can call Age UK Advice for free on 0800 169 65 65 to find out how the Age UK network can help someone who may be feeling lonely. Lines are open 365 days a year from 8am.