When you’re going through a major change in life – like stopping work, moving to a new area or coming to terms with a health condition – it’s important to have people to lean on. And when these changes come in later life, Age UK research shows that they can trigger feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Supported by a generous £1 million award from the Masonic Charitable Foundation, Age UK’s Later Life Goals programme was designed specifically to support older people through periods of significant change.
“People can experience difficult moments of transition in later life, like the death of a partner,” says Justin Butler, who works in Age UK’s Wellbeing team and manages the programme. “Or it could be a dementia diagnosis. In both cases it’s crucial to ensure the rocky road ahead is more manageable. The aim is to be there to give people face-to-face support, often by going to their homes, to help them take control at a difficult time – so they’re not left to deal with things alone.”
Delivered by 13 local Age UKs across England and Wales, Later Life Goals provides tailored support to help older people achieve what matters to them, despite the challenges they might be facing.
Helping Beatrice find the confidence to leave her house
Eighty-eight-year-old Beatrice was living alone and called Age Cymru Gwent to ask for help as she was feeling very lonely. Previously very active and sociable, Beatrice had broken her wrist in a fall and was now scared to go out on her own. By the time she got in touch, she hadn’t left the house in a year.
Age Cymru Gwent adviser Angela Worth visited Beatrice at her home: “She was very chatty, and after talking to her I realised there was a lot we could do that could help her achieve her goals. What she really wanted was help putting things in place to start living her life again and becoming the independent person she once was.” One of the first things Beatrice wanted to do was make a will. So Angela arranged for a solicitor to visit her to help her with this. “It put her mind at rest tremendously,” says Angela.
Beatrice was also due for an eye test, and her sight issues were contributing to her lack of confidence about getting out and about safely. Age Cymru Gwent arranged for an eye test, which resulted in Beatrice getting an up to date prescription and new glasses. Angela also noticed there were some odd jobs Beatrice needed help with. “It was clear she loved her garden and wanted to get it tidied up.” Angela therefore put Beatrice in touch with a local, trusted gardener and was there to help the first time the two met. “It was nice to see Beatrice interacting with other people with ease. She’ll now be able to contact that person herself in the future.”
With Angela’s support, Beatrice has now found the confidence to leave the house again. “The things we helped with might seem like small things to you and me, but they are massive to someone like Beatrice,” says Angela. “It’s all gone towards making her feel better about herself and the future. She is now moving forwards at her own pace in life and has made the first steps in regaining her independence.”
Beatrice says, “With the help of Age Cymru Gwent I now have something positive to look forward to.”
Helping Mary take control of her housing and health
Mary, 66, got in touch with the team at Age UK Hertfordshire at the suggestion of her pulmonary rehab team, who support her with her long-term lung condition. She lives with a number of medical conditions, including depression. No longer able to work and with no savings to fall back on or family to support her, Mary was surviving on just £30 a week.
One of the first things the team at Age UK Hertfordshire did was ask if Mary was receiving her State Pension. “She thought she wasn’t eligible for her State Pension until she was 67,” says Emma Wood from Age UK Hertfordshire. “But on checking Mary’s date of birth, we saw she became eligible to start claiming in January 2016 at age of 62. It was a shock to Mary as no one had ever told her she should be getting her State Pension and she needs to apply for it.”
Emma then visited Mary to talk to her about her benefit entitlement, including Attendance Allowance, the main disability benefit for people of state pension age. It was then that Mary opened up about how bad things had got for her.
“Because of her financial situation, Mary was becoming more and more isolated and did not let anyone in to her home. We arranged to meet at her friend’s house,” says Emma. “She had no heating or hot water and hadn’t for a couple of years. As a result the house was cold and damp and her furniture had been ruined by mould, which was making Mary’s physical and mental health worse. Mary told me that no one knew how she was living as she was too embarrassed to tell anyone.”
As well as helping Mary to apply for State Pension and Attendance Allowance, which was successful, Emma encouraged Mary to speak to her GP about her situation. As a result, Mary now receives ongoing support from the mental health team. Due to the worrying state of Mary’s living conditions, Age UK Hertfordshire also referred Mary to the Adult Social Services department of her local council so they could assess her living situation. They visited Mary and provided her with the practical and emotional support she needed to move forward with her current housing situation. And while Mary was not eligible for social housing, due to her owning her own home, they supported her with the realisation that moving into a smaller, more manageable property was the best way forward for Mary. Mary now also receives weekly phone calls from Age UK Hertfordshire InTouch service to provide her with ongoing emotional support.
Mary told us that Age UK Hertfordshire has saved her life. Her financial situation has improved and she received the back payment of her benefits as well as the weekly award. Without their help, Mary would have never opened up about her situation but now realises that everyone is there to help her and work towards the best outcomes for her. She hopes things are going to get a lot better soon.
Working together to make change more manageable
David Innes, Chief Executive of the Masonic Charitable Foundation, says: “Freemasons are proud to be supporting Age UK through MCF to help older people experiencing major events like the death of a spouse. This is a period of considerable change in which older people can become lonely and socially isolated. Loneliness not only makes people miserable, it can have a serious impact on physical health too, so it’s vital to provide information and support that can help with this period of adjustment, to help older people get the most out of later life. This is a hugely valuable service that can transform thousands of lives.”
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