Not simple subject

10:07 10 February 2012

As Chief Officer for Age Concern Exmouth, I would like to respond on behalf of the charity with this open letter to E M Connor commenting on ‘Beat Loneliness’.

E M Conner raises many salient points. Preventative health-care is very much talked about and is happening right now. It’s fair to say that in years gone by this particular element has been overlooked and underrated. E M Connor is right to say that many older people living alone are desperately lonely. The letter goes on to give an outline of the outcomes of such loneliness, none of which Age Concern Exmouth could take issue with. Our staff and volunteers work with a number of people who fall into this category.

I would suggest E M Conner’s opinion should not be misconstrued. There are many lonely older people out there, but I need to balance the comment. There are, equally, many older people who fare very well, who find they are not in need of the services proposed by E M Connor, but at the same time interact with their local Age Concern on a regular basis.

Not every older person we meet is lonely or, indeed, thinks they would come into that category.

We do, however, meet many who live alone and are not lonely in any way shape or form. Likewise, we meet many people who live with others and who have family close by, but who are desperately lonely.

There are pertinent points made about loneliness. That said, there are no easy answers here. For solutions to exist, there is a need to understand the issues of the people affected by such loneliness. But it needs those very people to be involved. The people at the heart of loneliness have the solution to the problem. They just may not know that at this stage of their lives.

Also, we need to take into consideration what support mechanisms already exist and be really honest about whether it matches a need. The people, to which E M Connor refers, need to be a willing partner in providing a solution to a problem.

Many of us around the edge can say we know what people want, but the reality is we can only offer what we think people want. For a solution to really work, we need those at the heart of it to participate within the solution exercise. Organisations such as Age Concern Exmouth facilitate to provide the solution; we, like the many other agencies involved, do not hold the answer.

E M Connor suggests more day centres are the answer to the problem. Day centres provide only part of an answer to a wider, more complex solution to combating loneliness. Older lonely people themselves hold the answer. The challenges are about providing what people want, not what we perceive others should have.

By way of this letter, I invite E M Connor to contact me and arrange a visit to Age Concern Exmouth, come and meet staff and volunteers who make up the local Age Concern and discuss the issues behind the perception such services do not exist when, the reality is, we are providing such.

Age Concern Exmouth day centre is open Monday to Friday, 10am to 4pm. As well as providing a range of activities, services and information and advice, it also includes a ‘drop-in’ lunch facility.

Steve Dace

Chief Officer, Age Concern Exmouth and

District.

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