People are being urged to speak to their neighbours as part of a week long campaign to raise awareness of isolation in Birmingham and how it can be prevented.
Ageing Together Week takes place across the city from Monday, January 22 to Sunday, January 28, and is being run by Ageing Better in Birmingham, a £6 million National Lottery funded programme supported by the Big Lottery Fund.
By 2020, almost 57,000 people aged 65 plus will be living alone in the city, (37 per cent of the age group), and this rises to almost 81,000, almost 53 per cent of the age group, when those with a limiting long-term illness are included.
Feeling alone and isolated is a negative emotional experience and can adversely affect both physical health and mental well-being.
A review of 23 research studies involving 181,000 people across more than 20 years showed isolation raises the risk of stroke. The University of York said the findings meant the problem of people feeling alone should be treated as a public health problem like smoking or overeating, researchers have said.
Isolation has also been found to contribute towards stress, lower self-esteem, disturbed sleep, cardiovascular disease, dementia and other conditions.
The aim of the week is to raise awareness of the problem and to show those who feel they are by themselves that there is help and company available if they know where to look.
Widow, Betty Edwards, 69, recently plucked up the courage to attend the Springhill Library Over 50s Club, which is funded by Ageing Better in Birmingham, a move she describes as the ‘best thing she’s ever done’ and is encouraging others like her to do the same.
She said: “I took the plunge and attended the club after a neighbour brought a leaflet advertising it round to me. Since then I haven’t looked back, we play games, knit, use computers and chat. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. Before I was just sitting in the house doing nothing. My world is much happier and I get to meet other people and chat about things.
Stephen Raybould, Programme Director for Ageing Better in Birmingham, said: “Isolation is said to have the same effect on a person’s health, equivalent to that of smoking or alcoholism, and more severe than not exercising or obesity. However, this is not a well-known fact, so we want to raise awareness of the health implications and show people they’re not alone and we’re here to help.
“It’s a you and me problem and the Ageing Better programme is all about bringing communities together and connecting people. Anyone over 50 need not be isolated because there is help and support out there, and plenty of activities taking place in their communities.
“The start of the new year is the perfect time to make a change and to seek out the groups and activities available. We want to empower individuals to become free of isolation and to enjoy their later life with other people in their neighbourhood.
“Everyone has a neighbour, so if you’re feeling low, knock on their door and say hi. Alternatively, if you have a neighbour, who you suspect could be struggling and doesn’t have much interaction with other people, reach out to them. Such a simple gesture, could mean the world to that person.”
Betty added: “Together we can combat the problem. It’s about spreading the message, if my neighbour had not introduced me to the club, my life wouldn’t have been changed for the better.”
Ageing Better in Birmingham is part of a £78 million National Lottery funded programme to support people in later life. There are 14 partnerships across England working with older people to create new and enjoyable ways for them to be actively involved in their communities, helping to combat social isolation and loneliness.
So far almost 5,000 people have benefited from the Ageing Better in Birmingham scheme, which was launched in April 2015 and delivered by an Ageing Better Partnership, led by The Centre for Voluntary Action (BVSC).