By Stephen Dale, Head of Community Partnerships at Dorothy House Hospice Care
Loneliness is sadly an everyday fact of life for many people living with life-limiting conditions and for the people who care for them. We encounter it every day working in hospice care and I understand how loneliness can negatively impact on people’s health.
The Campaign to End Loneliness states that it is more dangerous than obesity and as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. With 17% of older people having contact with family, friends and neighbours less than once a week and 11% having contact less than once a month, it’s a problem that cannot be ignored.
We welcome recent news that Tracey Crouch, minister for sport and civil society, (or so called ‘Minister for Loneliness’) will take a leadership role in tackling this taboo subject. She will build on the work of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness which was set up by the late labour MP to shine a light on different aspects of loneliness and the positive steps we can all take to reduce it.
It is time for action on endemic loneliness in society, the need is perhaps well illustrated by a comment from my colleague, Louise, yesterday; “I gave a patient a hug at our Coffee Club and he said ‘that’s the first hug I’ve had since my wife died’.’”
While Dorothy House is best known for supporting people with conditions such as cancer, heart failure and Motor Neurone Disease, we also help to combat loneliness. To reduce the isolation felt by local people affected by loss, the hospice runs friendly, weekly drop-in sessions at our sites in Winsley, Peasedown St John and Trowbridge called ‘Coffee Club’ and ‘Tea@3.’ These informal sessions enable local people to socialise, make friends and seek advice and support from our staff and volunteers.
For patients, their families and carers we also offer a befriending service, called ‘Companions,’ where 40 plus volunteers provide care and support by visiting patients in their own homes. Volunteers may sit with a patient, talk about the news or a hobby, support the patient with light day-to-day tasks, help them engage with social activities or take them out to places they would like to visit. They also offer support and respite to carers and family members.
“For many of our patients the visit by their Companion is the highlight of their week” says Wendy Meilton, Companions Coordinator at the Hospice. “It may give them a chance to get out and about, but even when they are too unwell to leave the house, it gives people something to look forward to. ‘An excuse to put on my lipstick!’ as one of our patients put it. And we’re not just there for the patients but also for the people who care for them. By sitting with the patients for a couple of hours it gives carers a chance to do something for themselves.”
Loneliness affects many groups in society including the young so although we’re an adult hospice we run peer support groups for our patient’s younger children called Muddy Footprints, a Bereaved Teenage Group and a Young Adult Group which is for our young patients.
You don’t have to be a volunteer to make a difference to someone’s life, everyone can play their part by keeping in touch with friends, neighbours and relatives who may be lonely. As one of our patients told us “I felt ignored by my old friends and neighbours when I became ill”. Why not get to know your neighbours, especially if they are elderly or live alone, you could make a big difference to their quality of life. Consider offering to pick up some shopping for them when you visit the supermarket, include them in invitations to local events or simply take a few minutes to have a chat and see how they are.
To find out about Dorothy House social clubs and other local befriending services visit call us on 01225 722 988. Visit www.jocoxloneliness.org to find out how you can be part of the solution and ‘Make a Pledge’ to help combat loneliness.