How can we support our elders through loneliness and dementia? Some examples from UK, France and Japan
Last week, in our blog on Demos' report on older generations' view of the future, we expressed the need to create situations where older generations converse with younger ones and together imagine utopian futures, as a way to make the older generation feel less fearful and more 'in control' of their own future.
And we are starting to see the two generations meet - in one way as a by-product of the mission to solve the loneliness 'epidemic', which is especially predominant amongst older people.
According to a survey by Age UK, 360,000 people aged 65 and over have not had a conversation with friends or family for a week, and 200,000 have gone without for a month. Luckily there are initiatives in the UK and beyond, coming up with innovative solutions, creating opportunities for younger generations to support their elders, sparking conversation and fostering relationships between the two.
Here's the ones that caught our attention:
HomeShare UK enables two unrelated people to share a home for mutual benefit. The homesharer, often a younger person or key caretaker, benefits from low cost accommodation at a time of record housing shortages and high rent, while the Householder, an older or disabled person, receives companionship and practical help in and around their home.
The charity has recently received quite a bit of attention in the media since BBC Politics featured the story of two housemates - 95 year old RAF veteran Florence and 27 year old student Alexander (pictured above) - who meet through the houseshare scheme.
In the BBC article Florence shares a few words about her experience as a homesharer:
I was in the RAF during the war and I was very involved in RAF Association events. So there was always somewhere to go, something to do, somebody to talk to. But when you get old you're physically not as capable as you used to be. And you desperately need company.
You cannot believe the difference that it makes just hearing somebody in the house. Hearing movement upstairs and knowing that it's not someone breaking in or something like that. The best thing about it is somebody coming in at night, round about six o'clock. That's when my family used to come home for their dinner and to me now, to hear the key in the lock, round about six o'clock, is wonderful.
Japan has one of the most rapidly aging society in the world and with this comes a set challenges - one of these being a dementia crisis. In the city of Matsudo, just east of Tokyo, more than 28% of the city’s 480,000 people will be aged 65 or older by the end of the decade and the number of people living with dementia will rise equivalently.
To deal with this challenge Matsudo has taken an approach which involves the entire community. Now the rest of Japan, as well as communities in the US, are following their example.
The city's story is described in a recent article from the Guardian. An excerpt:
Spearheaded by city hall, the plan includes raising public awareness among residents as well as businesses, such as banks and taxi services, which regularly come into contact with older people. There are cafes and drop-in centres for dementia patients and their families.
From last summer, the city began distributing stickers carrying a QR code that can be ironed onto items of clothing to help police locate the families of people who have wandered from their homes.
In return for attending a 90-minute lecture, residents can become “dementia supporters” who identify themselves with a bright orange bracelet. To date, 21,490 people have qualified as dementia-aware, while more than 3,000 regularly take part in neighbourhood patrols.
Several times a month, small groups of volunteers put on bright orange bibs and walk around neighbourhoods to distribute leaflets carrying information on dementia services and, occasionally, to help people in distress.
“We tend to pass by the very new houses as they’re occupied by young families,” says Manami Yoshii, a local welfare official while on patrol in a Matsudo suburb on a chilly January afternoon. “But if we see an older house that has the curtains drawn during the day or a big pile of newspapers in the mailbox, we tell the police.”
The number of people with dementia who go missing in Japan has reached crisis levels, reaching a record high of 15,432 in 2016, according to the national police agency – a rise of more than 25 percent from the previous year.
In Matsudo, the patrol initiative has produced results. Over the past six years, there have been more than 180 cases of people exhibiting signs of the condition found wandering the streets, all of whom were reunited with their families.
When they are not on patrol, dozens of dementia supporters run cafes for people with the condition and their families.
The French postal service are redeploying their mail carries as caretakers for the elderly. This is an innovative response to both the isolation and loneness of the country's aging population - and a decline in mail volumes, which leaves postal workers without work.
The idea first came about during a heatwave. City halls, worried about the wellbeing of the elders, called on the postal service to check in on them as they were out on their routes.
Watch a video report from VICE news about the service below: