in tune with God’s will for Woosehill Church
A young man discovers just how tough it is
to go a week without seeing anyone!
This is a reality for over half a million older people in the UK.
Loneliness and isolation in the UK
- 17% of older people are in contact with family, friends and neighbours less than once a week and 11% are in contact less than once a month
- Over half (51%) of all people aged 75 and over live alone
- Two fifths all older people (about 3.9 million) say the television is their main company
- 63% of adults aged 52 or over who have been widowed, and 51% of the same group who are separated or divorced, report feeling lonely some of the time or often
- 59% of adults aged over 52 who report poor health say they feel lonely some of the time or often, compared to 21% who say they are in excellent health
- A higher percentage of women than men report feeling lonely some of the time or often
Harmful to health
Loneliness is a bigger problem than simply an emotional experience. Research shows that loneliness and social isolation are harmful to health:-
- Loneliness increases the likelihood of mortality by 26%
- The effect of loneliness and isolation on mortality is comparable to the impact of well-known risk factors such as obesity, and has a similar influence as cigarette smoking
- Loneliness is associated with an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease and stroke
- Loneliness increases the risk of high blood pressure
- Lonely individuals are also at higher risk of the onset of disability
Loneliness and mental health
- Loneliness puts individuals at greater risk of cognitive decline
- One study concludes that lonely people have a 64% increased chance of developing clinical dementia
- Lonely individuals are more prone to depression
- Loneliness and low social interaction are predictive of suicide in older age
Academic research is clear that preventing and alleviating loneliness is vital to enabling older people to remain as independent as possible. Lonely individuals are more likely to:
- Visit their GP, have higher use of medication, higher incidence of falls and increased risk factors for long term care
- Undergo early entry into residential or nursing care
- Use accident and emergency services independent of chronic illness.
The most robust piece of research so far concludes there are three broad characteristics of a good loneliness intervention:
- Start with individuals – their interests, the type of experience they are facing: isolation or loneliness?
- Involve each person in shaping the activity
- There is also academically-robust evidence that group interventions work very well
So – that’s what we’ve been doing – listening to people in the church – and it is clear that anything we do must not be a drain on the already overstretched team who work so hard for Woosehill Church. So any project to reach out to the lonely or isolated in our community must require minimum manpower – and hopefully evolve to become self-manning as new people bring their own gifts and skills.
I invited a group of young-at-heart ladies from the church to come for a cream tea and a chat. I wanted to pick their brains and seek their thoughts and ideas. They have a good social life together, but I asked them to imagine being lonely or isolated. What would they like to see available for lonely people. There were a number of suggestions, which we can look into later, but one lady came up with the idea of singing for health. There was total enthusiasm for that idea. They all loved it!
As we’d been enjoying our cream tea, I’d had music playing in the background. I have a very portable Bose speaker for my iPod which gives and amazingly good sound. On iTunes I’ve collected hundreds of songs that are favourites of mine from way back. From Ella Fitzgerald to Buddy Holly and many, many more.
I offered to put together a playlist of a whole variety of songs – with print-outs of the lyrics – and invited the ladies to come back in a month to try out the idea and see how much they enjoy it. If they are still enthusiastic, we will look to each inviting a lonely or isolated person to join us – so that we grow the group through relationships. If and when the singing group gets too big for the house, we could hold it in the upstairs room at Woosehill Church.
It was only after the ladies had left that I remembered that, some weeks ago, I wrote an article for the church magazine on the health benefits of music:-
Scientists have demonstrated that music is neurologically special. If your brain were to be scanned while you listened to your favourite music, the screen would light up like a fireworks display. Not just the auditory cortex, but areas involved in emotion and memory, language and decision-making, movement and reactions.
Even if dementia erodes one part of your brain, music can still reach other parts to tap into emotions, memories and even abilities that have been thought lost. The results can be astonishing – and profoundly moving. People who cannot speak are able to sing. People who struggle to walk can dance. People who have withdrawn into themselves begin to take an interest in others again.
We all know that flashback feeling when a song comes on the radio and takes you back to another time, person or place. That is personally meaningful music – and research shows it has a powerful effect upon the brain. If personally meaningful music can enable dementia sufferers to sing when they cannot speak, we could consider what such music might do for people who are simply lonely. If something has caused people to withdraw into themselves, music may enable them to take an interest in others once more.
More than memories
Music can do more than simply bring back memories of times and places – it reaches areas of the brain that are involved in emotion and memory, language and decision-making, movement and reactions.
As I was about to start writing this explanation of the Sing Something Simple proposal, I received a message from a Christian friend. She told me that her mother had recently had a stroke. But then she went on give me all the verses of an old hymn that her mother had just started singing – word perfect! My friend thinks that the hymn will be from the times her mother used to go to chapel 70-80 years ago! A timely confirmation of the power of music!
I also have in my iTunes hundreds of worship hymns and songs. So the Sing Something Simple play list could include some inspirational hymns. As I wrote in my church magazine article:-
Worship music may be even more powerful. We use music to praise God and it seems that He, in return, has created our brains in such a way that we ourselves benefit from praising Him in song. Christian music can have a potent effect upon the mind and emotions, since the power of God goes along with our praises, enhancing the natural benefits of the music. We at Woosehill Church have a gift that could touch the hearts and lives of isolated and lonely people in our community. How might we offer that gift to them?
Little did I know when I wrote that article, that the ladies would come up with the idea of Sing Something Simple!
The way forward
We’ve tried contacting local organisations ourselves – without a plan of what we could do. This simply resulted in those organisations wanting volunteers for what they are doing. That isn’t the purpose of PMC – and anyway Woosehill Church simple doesn’t have the manpower for that.
So the plan is to contact other organisations in the community who may have contact with lonely people. We could let those organisations know what we are doing and see how we might work together for the benefit of the isolated in our community .
Finally – if we are in any doubt of the need, AGE UK have a map of loneliness on their web site.
Woosehill is in the next-to-highest category for loneliness!
Click here for a report on our first
Sing Something Simple Session