A new service for those aged over 65 who feel lonely in their daily life or have difficulties keeping in touch with others is being offered to those living in Berneray, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist or Eriskay.
Developed by NHS Western Isles, the new pilot scheme is known as ConnectingUists. It provides a confidential referral to a person called a Social Navigator who can assess their social needs and help with accessing support. This may often be through helping them to become involved with their own local voluntary and community groups.
There are many benefits for older people in becoming involved in ConnectingUists and accessing these non-medical needs. We know that feeling lonely or isolated can affect our mental and physical health and general wellbeing, particularly if we are older. In fact, loneliness can result in a similar chance of an earlier death as smoking 15 cigarettes per day, a lack of exercise, or from being obese.
Martin Malcolm, NHS Western Isles Head of Public Health Intelligence, said, “Research has long shown the social and health damage caused to individuals and communities from loneliness and social isolation and it is greatly welcome that this is increasingly being recognised among Government and the NHS. I am very pleased therefore that we in the Western Isles are able to offer this new ConnectingUists service to begin to tackle this debilitating condition particularly among our older people who are most at risk.”
He added, “The service, although supported by NHS Western Isles as part of its Remoage project, is very much based in the communities we serve. ConnectingUists will initially be offered in Uists and Benbecula while we test out this new approach, including access to novel use of information and communications technology (CT) where helpful. If it proves successful over time we hope to be able to offer this across all our island communities and age groups as of course, loneliness knows no boundaries.”
Dr. Maggie Watts, NHS Western Isles Director of Public Health, said “There are many additional benefits for older people getting involved in ConnectingUists. This includes improved mental health and wellbeing and increased access to social supports and networks which can reduce the feelings of isolation many people can feel. It can also help improve self-confidence and help people become more involved in their own community, often learning a new skill.”
Older people (and their carers) who feel they would benefit from joining the ConnectingUists scheme are asked to contact their GP, community nurse or other healthcare professional and ask to be referred.
This service is initially supported and funded under the European Union Remoage programme focusing on older people and their social support needs. If the service works well, it is hoped to be able to offer a similar service to other people and to extend it to offer support beyond loneliness and social isolation to wider non-medical needs of people that may be affecting their health and wellbeing.