Befriending the lonely




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Living alone can be isolating and lonesome for even the most independent of people, but it can be especially so for the elderly when what used to be simple daily tasks start to become a struggle. Sadly, this is a problem that has become increasingly familiar to many in Marlborough’s elderly community – and one that has grown since the onset of Covid. Age Concern Marlborough community welfare co-ordinator Bobby Houlahan said she often came across people needing help with what might seem like little things in life, but were quite the challenge for those less agile among us. “We had an elderly man who came into the office and said his smoke alarm had been going off [to signal a battery change] for a couple of months as he didn’t feel safe getting up on a stool to change the battery, but he didn’t have anyone to call or help him, so he just had to put up with it,” Houlahan said. “We also had a lady in Picton who was watching the Olympics and sat on her remote control and changed all the settings by accident, so she had no TV all week because she didn’t know who to call or ask for help.” Houlahan said that loneliness among the elderly had always been an issue in Marlborough, but had escalated as a result of forced isolation during the pandemic. “We’ve certainly seen an increase in isolation and loneliness since Covid with a lot of functions and social events being cancelled. “People are scared to go out, especially the elderly who may be a bit more susceptible to Omicron,” Houlahan said. Houlahan said as well as needing help with jobs around the house, most people just needed human interaction. “We had a man come into the office last week who said he hadn’t spoken to anyone for the last two weeks, not face-to-face, or even on the phone. “Sadly, we get a lot of calls like that.” With this in mind, Houlahan and volunteer co-ordinator Meryl Jones run Marlborough’s Age Concern Accredited Visiting Service that matches older people who are lonely or socially isolated with volunteers who are keen to befriend them, and spend time getting to know them. Houlahan said that ongoing periods of isolation and loneliness could have an impact on people’s mental health and instil a negative