Today’s Star Columnist: Mary Wren

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Recently GPs in Sheffield have been doing something called “care planning.” It is about looking at a person’s health and life as a whole, to see how hospital admissions can be prevented. I was interested to hear from doctor feedback, that a key issue affecting Sheffield’s elderly is loneliness.

BBC news had an article last year about a study of 2,800 women with breast cancer. It showed that those who saw few friends or family were up to five times more likely to die of their disease than those with many social contacts. Another study in Chicago showed that socially isolated people developed changes in their immune system which made them more likely to get inflammation and disease, including heart disease and cancer.

Half of UK over 75s live alone and many are lonely. Loneliness is not just about living alone, it is about not feeling connected to others or cared for. It is about not having purpose or feeling of value. The research would support what Sheffield GPs have found – loneliness is a risk factor for emotional and physical ill-health and hospital admission.

So what can we do? The mental health charity, MIND, have an excellent website with a section on loneliness. They give practical advice on helping ourselves and others who are lonely. One person said: “The way I deal with loneliness is to spend time outside, have a conversation with the cashier as I pay for things, phone my mum or see a friend. Sometimes going for a walk and seeing people in the street, perhaps saying hello to someone you know, can make you feel better.”

Many communities in Sheffield have lunch clubs at Churches or coffee mornings. It can be hard to join a new group but those who do really benefit. One elderly lady started volunteering in a charity shop and it transformed her life as a whole new network of friendships opened up. Another housebound man told me how neighbours popping in, bringing the paper each day and shopping for him made life much brighter. Sometimes it is just taking a small step and trying something new-for ourselves or others. Maybe the health of people in our city can be changed in ways we don’t expect.words)