An open letter by Lindsey Holland on how to combat the 'heads down' anxiety problem and care for the elderly at Christmas (and all year round)...
Words by Lindsey Holland
As we grow closer to Christmas, it’s important to think more about ways that we can support those who won’t have anyone to celebrate with, those who long for some company and those who will feel very much alone around this time of year in particular. I’m talking about our amazing elderly population.
My grandparents have always played a major role in my life, and still do. They taught me a hell of a lot. My nana’s soft attitude towards my stress levels surrounding friendships, or later on, boys, were exactly what I needed. She used to say “never mind little rose” and then stick the kettle on and shower me with fancy biscuits. I wear a ring engraved with that exact message. Sid, that’s granddad, was a tall man with the kindest, most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen, taught me about how to listen well. He asked lots of questions, and I loved that about him. I’d go as far as to say he was my best pal.
I worked as a physiotherapist in NHS hospitals across the country for years. There are many areas across a physiotherapy career, but I settled in an area I excelled in, and felt completed me a bit, and that was elderly care. What a rollercoaster working with the elderly is! I wouldn’t change a thing about it. Or maybe except the time that Doris drop kicked me in the chest for making her a brew- dementia is really tough. Or the time that Horace’s catheter exploded on my leg and I had to wear surgical scrubs for the rest of the day.
My love for the elderly, and for the NHS and the incredible teams I was a part of over the years aside, it got to be a lot. I was at breaking point. The lack of staff, the overload of patients in the winter months, the bed crisis. I was not fully willing to give up my job or my blog, which ran alongside my physio career as a hobby. As my role as a physiotherapist became more stress and less love, my blog became more demanding, and began to open up doors I never imagined. I was pushed to make a decision in favour of my mental and physical health, and in June 2017 I left my role as a physiotherapist.
As you can imagine, leaving my role in caring for the elderly left a gaping hole in my life and it wasn’t long before I started to search for something to fill said hole. I had a work meeting with a really inspiring woman, and it transpired that she was volunteering via Age UK as part of their befriending scheme and I left the meeting and got in touch with Age UK the very same afternoon. The befriending scheme is built to try and put a stop to loneliness amongst the elderly population by pairing volunteers (you!) up with a lonely elderly person in your area. GPs, social workers and families can refer the elderly person into the scheme. All that’s required of you, is a one hour training course to make you feel comfortable within your new role, and a visit to your new pal at least once per week for a couple of hours. They actually also offer telephone befriending services- so you can pick up the phone and catch up that way if the person would prefer it. It’s really quite an amazing service.
I recently began a new online series on my blog called ‘Ageless Ties’. I want to identify why, as a generation we have moved so far away from the crux of what makes us happy, and the things that makes us feel connected to one another. We’re living in a ‘head down’ generation filled with technology designed to help us to operate at our best, except that all it does is ensue anxiety and disconnection. Working in elderly care taught me about how beautiful and important a connection between generations really is. Not just for them, but for us, too. The way they see the world, our problems Vs. their problems and how they manage situations. It’s all about perspective, and they’ve got a tonne of it.
From the community I’ve built around the Ageless Ties platform, I’ve learnt that we have so much to offer each other and that a friend from an older generation and the perspective that they bring to you will be one of the most refreshing things you’ll ever experience. Through sitting with and interviewing countless women and men who have formed the most incredible relationships beyond any conventional ideas of age and background, I’ve been lucky enough to gain an insight into the deep and undying importance of bridging the gaps between ‘age ranges’.
I’m four months into my Age UK befriending scheme friendship with my elderly pal (click here to read more about the end loneliness scheme), and honestly, she’s a diamond. She has had the most incredible life, gives wonderful advice and is a joy to be around. We laugh a lot together and I leave feeling full and inspired, and I would like to think that the way she natters on to me, makes her feel similar.
More information about the ways you can get involved in helping to end loneliness can be found in the links above.