Neighbourly help

By David Gledhill, Marketing and Communications Officer

The time is fast approaching when the systems we have in place to look after older people will no longer be able to cope with the sheer numbers of us lucky enough to live longer.

As has been stated in this column many times before the number of people over the age of 50 in the Bay is already way above the national average at around 45% with numbers rising at a startling rate.

There are lots of reasons for it – better health being at the core, but places like Brixham, Paignton and Torquay are attractive to many retirees because of many happy memories forged over years of holidaying here.

But as the numbers continue to rise, we have to find new ways of supporting the over 50’s, particularly those that are at risk of becoming isolated and lonely, which in turn can lead to all sorts of health problems.

We cannot simply blame the Government – local or national and we cannot simply put it all onto an already overloaded NHS we need to look closer to home (pardon the pun) for the answers.

As Ageing Well Torbay showed in its first two years of operation, the number of people who visit the doctors or need to be admitted to hospital falls significantly once the underlying issues isolation and loneliness are tackled.

Ageing Well has also shown that the traditional ways of supporting older people – carers, support workers, sheltered accommodation and homes – still have their place in our society, but unless people come up with alternatives, they will soon be overwhelmed.

But the good news is, most people do not plan to end their days in a home and want instead to have the sort of support that will allow them to stay in their own homes for longer.

In many cases, it is not as difficult as it sounds, but it does require a support structure that makes it possible and in many cases that means thinking outside the box and looking at some of the issues, not as problems, but as part of the solution.

A great many older people have told Ageing Well that once they get past a certain age (normally retirement) they feel sidelined and their lifetime’s wealth of knowledge and skills are put into retirement along with the regular wage packet.

And yet so many people would love to be able to continue to use their skills, particularly if those skills can be used on behalf of others and particularly if it would allow both themselves and others to stay put in their own homes.

It might only be for want of an affordable gardener, a skilled DIYer or an occasional driver that prevents someone being happy in the home that has been theirs for decades.

Even the smallest of jobs can, given a twist of fate, become overwhelming to one person, but remain easily surmountable to others, and that is where we need an agency or similar to come up with a way of co-ordinating groups of people to help each other and in so doing, themselves.

At Ageing Well we are looking for projects that can deliver the skills that are needed – and that might be as simple as someone turning a mattress, hanging curtains, moving furniture, putting out the bins or changing a lightbulb.

We know that there are a great many people out there – young and old who would happily give up some of their time and make an effort be part of the solution, not the problem, but they just need a little nudge. A bit of organisation.

But you don’t have to wait for that, despite what some people think there are few if any barriers to helping your neighbour – you don’t need permission to pop round and offer help and it does not mean you are interfering – far from it and it could make all the difference.

Put aside your fears: there is no red tape; you do not need insurance or a permit from the council. A smile costs nothing, five minutes chatting costs nothing and offers of help in whatever form are absolutely priceless.

Christmas is just around the corner, but not everyone is looking forward to it. To some, it represents the loneliest, most depressingly awful time of the year. But with just a little effort on your part, it might not have to be.

Go knock on that door, pause a while at the garden fence, perhaps pop round with a card that shows you care. Someone – someone not very far away from you now will really appreciate it.