A 93 year-old lady who describes loneliness as the worst thing she has ever faced, is encouraging people to support the charity that was there for her when she had no one else.
Mary* was supported by Age NI to help her cope with the loneliness and grief she was experiencing after the death of her sister.
She’s sharing her story as part of Age NI’s 'No one should have no one turn to' campaign, to raise awareness of the impact that loneliness can have.
She hopes that by speaking out, people will be inspired to donate to Age NI this winter, to enable them to continue to support more people like her.
She said: ''I’m 93. Sometimes I’m alright, but sometimes I’m very, very lonely. I can’t leave the flat unaccompanied any more as I’m not steady enough on my feet. Before I got help from Age NI, I often didn’t see another person from one day to the next.
''I took early retirement in my early 50s, and I was able to do a bit of travelling with my sister. It’s nice to look back on that. I’ve had a good life. But sadly my sister passed away more than 10 years ago. Since she died I’ve been so lonely. When she passed away it broke my heart. I still miss her.
“I got my cat, Bella, after my sister died. She became my best friend. For a time there Bella was the only regular company I had day in and day out.“
Age NI’s First Connect service stepped in to support Mary, providing her with emotional and practical support at a difficult time in her life. Through the service, Mary was connected with a local volunteer, who provides her with the chance to get out and about in her local community.
Speaking about the support she receives from Age NI, Mary said: “I now have a volunteer, who comes and spends time with me every week. She takes me out to lovely places to have tea or coffee, but sometimes we just stay in and have a chat. I look forward to her coming. Having her company has made a great difference.
“I also now get a good morning call, four days a week. It’s so reassuring knowing that someone will be calling to check that I’m ok. And it’s also a chance to just have a nice wee chat.
“Loneliness is truly the worst thing I have ever had to face. Getting support from Age NI has really been the best thing that’s ever happened to me. The staff and volunteers are such good people. They look after me. I can’t thank them enough for all they’ve done.”
Through Age NI’s 'No one should have no one to turn to' campaign, the charity are highlighting the advice, care and support they provide so that older people don’t have to face later life alone.
They’re calling on local people to give whatever they can to their winter appeal, so they can be there for more families like Mary’s.
Money raised from 'No one should have no one to turn to' will help to fund essential services, such as Age NI’s free Advice and Advocacy Service, which is open every day of the year – including Christmas day – and gives clear, practical guidance that helps make complicated situations that bit easier.
Anyone who needs support or is worried about an older relative or friend can get in touch by calling Age NI’s Advice and Advocacy Service free of charge on 0808 808 7575 or visiting www.ageni.org.
*This is a real story but names have been changed to protect the service user’s anonymity.
'No one should have no one to turn to'
''No one should have no one to turn to in a crisis – that’s why Age NI is determined to be here whenever an older person needs us,'' they reveal.
''More than 2.5 million older people in the UK say they have no one to turn to for help and support. And many will spend this Christmas all alone with their problems, with no one to help find the way through.
''We know the challenges getting older can bring. Receiving a life-changing diagnosis like dementia. Losing the person who’s been your rock your whole life. Struggling to manage the stairs in the only place that feels like home.
''We give clear, practical guidance that makes sense of complicated situations - whether it’s coping with the demands of caring for someone or coming to terms with a bereavement. Our advice line is free to call and open every day of the year.
''We are here for older people and their families so they don’t have to face later life alone.''
How to spot loneliness
There are 1.2m chronically lonely older people in the UK, so it's likely we all know or care about someone who feels lonely. But it's not always easy to spot the signs. Some clues could include the person:
* Having a significant change in their routine (e.g. getting up a lot later);
* Neglecting their appearance or personal hygiene;
* Complaining of feeling worthless
* Not eating properly.
You should also consider if the person you care about has had a change in their circumstances that could have caused their loneliness, such as:
* Losing a loved one;
* Moving away from friends and family;
* Losing the social contact and enjoyment they used to get from work;
* Experiencing health problems that make it difficult for them to go out and do the things they enjoy.
As loneliness is such a deeply personal experience, you may spot signs they are lonely before the person you care about does or before they are able to talk about it.
It's also important to remember that someone can still feel lonely despite being surrounded by friends and family.
Advice Column: Q&A – What can I do to help someone who is lonely?
There’s something we can all do to help someone who might be lonely. Even the smallest gestures can make a huge difference. Here’s some ways you can support someone if you think they are lonely:
Start a conversation - It's not always easy to know who or how to help. A good start is simply to stop and talk to an elderly neighbour if you pass them on the street. Don't be afraid to ask them how they are feeling or if there's anything you can do to help. Having someone who is willing to listen could be a great comfort.
Offer practical help - Do you know an older person who lives alone, rarely leaves the house, has recently suffered a bereavement, is in poor health, disabled, has sight or hearing loss, or doesn't seem to have close family living nearby? Ask them if they need any help with tasks such as shopping, posting letters, picking up prescriptions and medicines, or dog-walking.
Share a meal - Older, isolated people often need a hand cooking for themselves, so why not take round an extra plate of hot home-cooked food, or a frozen portion they can heat up or microwave? As well as being practical, it's a nice way to share your time with a neighbour.
Encourage and support them to get help - Reassure them that it's possible to feel better with the right help. They may need some support to make new social connections or access services designed to tackle loneliness.
Be patient - When people are lonely, particularly if it's associated with poor mental health or physical health, they may get irritable or feel misunderstood by others. You may need to offer gentle assurance.
Call Age NI’s Advice and Advocacy Service on 0808 8080 7575 if you are concerned about an older person you know. Lines are open 8am – 7pm, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
No one should have no one to turn to. Help us be there for an older person who needs us this winter. Please donate: www.ageni.org/NoOne2019.
For more information about Age NI’s No one should have no one to turn to campaign, find out how you can donate and get involved at www.ageni.org/NoOne2019.
**Our Loneliness campaign with AgeNI continues this week with a special report appearing in the News Letter Big Weekend on November 30 as well as online which will be shared in print the following week across our sister titles.
Week Two will feature interviews with service users of the AgeNI Skainos day centre in east Belfast, as older people reveal their personal perspective on loneliness.
We also explore the demographics of loneliness with Action Mental Health, including an exclusive feature with a 41 year-old New Horizons client as statistics reveal loneliness also spikes at 40.