Social isolation and loneliness – words that run off the tongue, but how many of us know what it feels like to be really lonely? A report by Dr Deborah Ritchie asked our Day Centre Members about their lives and what the Day Centre means to them. What comes across is the important role Day Centres play in combatting the loneliness and social isolation that far too often characterises the lives of some of the most elderly and citizens living in our communities.
This is a very powerful report and one that everyone should read. Here’s the link: Members’ Views of North Berwick Day Centre.
Using pictures, focus groups and one to one conversations, Members spoke about what life is like. Coming to the Day Centre liberates people, gives them a sense of being accepted for who they are, they feel valued and respected. They are supported and noticed, people know who they are, they matter. Many Members have a number of health, sensory and cognitive impairments and are coping with the physical and emotional adjustments of increasing ill health. Being at the Centre, they don’t feel judged or embarrassed when they struggle with the simple business of daily life, when even the basics like getting out of the chair or concentrating on a conversation get harder and harder. Getting ready just to come to the Day Centre can be a challenge for many.
Members say the Day Centre feels like home. Many live alone, with few friends, family or spouses around them; others enjoy time out of the house being with other people. Many have had close family members die and they miss them. Bereavement is a big issue, our Members want to talk about the people they love who have died, to mark the anniversaries even if they were a long time ago. Not being able to remember and speak about the people who have meant a lot to them disconnects people from their own past and history. It increases loneliness. Days are long and far too many people only see paid carers when they pop in for short visits. Humans are social beings. We might differ in how much social contact we want or enjoy, but much of our identity is based on the things we do every day and the people we know and mix with. Sitting alone, watching tv, coping with increasing frailty is not the way most of us would want to end our days. Nor is it what we would wish for our children’s futures either.
The Day Centre is a community, a sense of belonging, of being part of the world. It is a life saver. It gives companionship, fun, activities – people love being able to chat, to keep healthy and keep the skills and talents they have. They want to keep the health they have for as long as possible. A home cooked locally sourced lunch is a treat and tells them they they are indeed worth it.
Dr Ritchie also heard about the things that stop people getting out and about – a lack of transport, not being able to cross the street because of the traffic and the lack of crossing spaces. And people wanted more activities – book clubs, exercise, talks, active life sessions and a bit of culture. They wanted help to cross the road, to get out walking and they wanted the Day Centre to be open 7 days a week.
Too many people think of Day Centres in terms of numbers and costs. In these hard pressed times when our older citizens are seen as a burden to be dealt with, it has become all too easy to see them as ‘care places’ in the community, a way of managing risk and cutting costs. This is shameful and wrong. For those of us whose lives are deeply intertwined with Day Centres, we have a passion and vision for our Day Centres as a source of hope, support and joy. Places for senior citizens to find companionship and a connection with the community, to give life meaning.. There are 10 East Lothian Day Centres, community led and run; an integral and valued part of the fabric of our towns and villages; precious havens and refuge from loneliness; beacons of humanity.
The voices of our older citizens are often unheard, especially if they are isolated or have a disability or dementia. Dr Ritchie’s report gives them a voice that we must listen to. Of course it’s not just older people who are lonely and isolated in out communities, there are people of all ages who are struggling and lonely who need our support. It needs to be about how we all support each other and care about each other.
Many many people tell us they are worried about people who are alone and socially isolated, they want to help, to make a difference. So many of us want to be part of communities that care, but how do we make that happen? How do we make our communities more supportive? How do we make a world where our young folk look forward to an old age that is not spent in loneliness?
If you want to make a difference there are many ways to do it. It can start with a smile and a friendly ‘hello’; an offer of assistance if someone is struggling. You can support your local Day Centre in many, many ways from spending time with members, to driving the bus or helping to fund raise. I can promise you you will get much more out of the Day Centre than you can possible give – it is so much more rewarding and meaningful than simply being a volunteer. You can also make sure older people are included in your events and activities and let us know what’s on – we really need to get better at sharing information about activities. But of course folk need the transport and assistance to get there and home again …..
The Older Peoples Network has 3 priorities that we want the Community Planning folk at the East Lothian Partnership and new Integrated Joint Board to address: Transport; Day Centres and Supportive Communities. If you’re interested, come along and get your voice heard. It’s people that make change happen; and this isn’t just about their old age, it’s about all our old age.