Loneliness affects all of us at some point in our lives. Whether we’re living miles away from family and friends, working alone for extended periods of time or going through a bereavement, prolonged isolation can damage our confidence and self esteem.
For most of us, our experiences of loneliness don’t last forever, as we’re able to take the steps to make changes in our lives. We can have a say in our futures. But people who have difficulties in communicating and expressing themselves often feel lonely and isolated on a daily basis.
Those with dementia, learning disabilities and mental health conditions are excluded from the conversations and decision making that affects their lives. They can’t make their own choices or take charge of their futures. This vulnerability means individuals feel shut off from the rest of society; trapped in their own world.
The care home experience
For older people living in care homes, their experiences of isolation can be devastating. It can affect their self worth.
Those living with dementia often lack the personal contact humans thrive on as they are unable to communicate with those around them. This can affect people’s wellbeing leading to anxiety and depression.
Many of us have this romantic image of what a care home is like, but the reality is different. A Care Quality Commission inspector told me that “loneliness is pervasive” and described the care home experience, for some people, as a “waiting room for death”.
In fact, research by the University of Bedfordshire shows that more than 80% of older people with mental health problems, who live in a care home, feel lonely.
Supporting people to access their rights
The Advocacy Project supports people with dementia living in care homes — in Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster — to have a say in their care and the services they receive.
Sophie, who has dementia, lost track of where all her financial savings were. She had been putting money into a bank account for several years to pay for her funeral arrangements, but she couldn’t recall where the money was. She was feeling worried and isolated, unsure who to turn to.
She spoke to The Advocacy Project and we were able to help her organise her finances. We made some enquiries and contacted the relevant people, and learnt that Sophie had a deputy who helped to manage the bank account.
With Sophie’s permission, we contacted the deputy with a request for a bank statement. Once we received the statement, we met Sophie to help her understand the figures.
“If I didn’t have The Advocacy Project, I wouldn’t have been able to find out where my money was. It has helped put my mind at rest.”
We also recently met Jenny who has dementia and can’t speak. She can only communicate through singing. Until our advocate spent time getting to know her, the care home staff hadn’t realised that’s what she was trying to do. Up until this point, Jenny was feeling frustrated as she was unable to communicate with anyone.
The Advocacy Project provides free, independent and confidential advocacy for people such as Sophie and Jenny. Our advocates support these individuals to access their legal rights and speak up for themselves.
Judith Elizabeth Davey