Juggling family life and other commitments

Seeing parents can be hard when life is busy. Loneliness and isolation among the elderly can reduce health and well-being, and personal care is an expensive and often unnecessary option. Good Company provides an alternative.

It can be hard to spend as much time as we’d like with older parents. Life often gets in the way. A survey of 3,000 baby boomers found 75% of agreeing it is ‘harder for people today to juggle working commitments and family life’. Unsurprisingly, children find it harder to see their older relatives the further away they live. As families are increasingly living further apart as people move for work, this is becoming a bigger challenge.

As well as the frustration it can cause children, it can also lead to loneliness and isolation for older people. This can be particularly acute after a bereavement, when one partner is suddenly without the company of the person with whom they were closest. There is growing evidence that loneliness increases the risk of heart disease and strokes, and results in earlier onset of dementia. One study has shown the impact of loneliness is as bad for someone’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Loneliness itself can make it harder for someone to live independently and make it more likely that someone will need to move into residential care.

Perversely, loneliness can reduce confidence and make it less likely that someone will reach out for help. Previous research by the WRVS has shown that more than 60% of over 75s experiencing loneliness don’t tell their families, with most of them not wanting to bother their relatives.

In China, where the number of over-60s is set to double in 20 years, the response to these challenges has been massive state intervention. Through the “Elderly Rights Law” children are required to visit their parents, and “neglect or snubbing” of the elderly is prohibited. It seems unlikely that such an approach would be seen as desirable or workable in the UK, but it shows the issue of loneliness and isolation is not confined these shores.

For some concerned children who struggle to see their parents as often as they would like, the answer is home care. This is a very expensive option, and proud older relatives resent the idea that someone needs to be paid to “look after” them.

All this paints a rather gloomy picture, but there are alternatives. Much as older people love to see their families, there is a real benefit to expanding social contacts. Interactions with someone new outside the family mean that practical and health concerns aren’t at the forefront of conversation. Companionship is also more mutual - unlike home care, it’s a meeting of equals, not a service rendered for payment.

There are many local schemes to help older people access company, with committed local volunteers keen to share time with an older person. A good source of information is the Campaign to End Loneliness, which has details on a number of organisations. There is also a new service is available across London. In ‘Good Company’, older relatives choose who they would like to share time with, creating a sense of ownership and control. If you have an older parent or relative in London, you can register interest here or call 0800 689 4643.