Older people reach out for support
When people think about isolation, people often associate it with feeling lonely, but the truth is, it is possible to be lonely without being isolated and isolated without being lonely. And it is entirely possible to feel both at the same time.
For many older people we support at One Westminster, feelings of loneliness is what brings them to our befriending service in the first instance. After all, befrienders provide companionship and a listening ear.
The effects of isolation
Betty* is 85, has a long-term illness and lives by herself. Her family resides outside London and her social circle has shrunk as she is unable to go outdoors without a wheelchair. Betty spends much of her time isolated and alone at home.The only people she encounters regularly are her carers and hospital staff for ongoing treatment.
As a consequence, Betty has lost her confidence and has nobody to confide in. Her mood is low, her energy has diminished and furthermore she feels that the support she receives from her care agency is entirely inadequate. But in the eight months since One Westminster matched Betty with a volunteer befriender, her life has turned around for the better.
This is in part due to the training delivered to our volunteer befrienders. Volunteer befrienders are primarily companions, but they are also motivators and encouragers. They are taught to recognise potential issues, such as inability to cook or use the stairs, and report any concerns they may have to the relevant authorities.
A bond is established
Clara* visits Betty every Saturday for about three hours. They have developed a trusting relationship within set parameters (which includes maintaining boundaries, keeping info confidential and so on) and enjoy each other’s company.
Taking control again
At first Betty didn’t feel up to socialising, but she and Clara now plan day outings for lunch and cinema matinees. Betty visits her local community on a regular basis, going to Brixton market to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, which has enabled her to eat more healthily. Most importantly, through the support of Clara, Betty has been able to take control of her life and change her care providers. Betty didn’t know that she could do this; she thought she would be asking for too much and would be penalised as a result. This made her feel helpless.
Betty now receives the care that she is entitled to and feels able to make other changes to improve the quality of her life.
Through our befriending service, our volunteers not only alleviate the feeling of loneliness, but they are able to overcome some of the consequences of social isolation. They help open doors to information and resources as well as instil confidence and resilience enabling service users to take control of their lives.
*Names have been changed to protect identities.