Your nan’s (probably) not smoking; but she may be lonely, which is just as bad

Elderly woman seated on couch holding hands together folded on lap feeling lonely (Via Jewish News)
Elderly woman seated on couch holding hands together folded on lap feeling lonely (Via Jewish News)

You might think that as a naturally communal group, Jews would be different. You’d be wrong: Jews are in fact more likely to live alone than the general population; indeed, almost half of Jews over 75 live alone.

Of course, not everyone who lives alone is lonely. However, whilst loneliness can be framed as an opportunity to discover new friends, conversations and experiences, a recent survey of people over 65 suggested that 74% of people don’t tell people they are feeling lonely, even if they have someone they can count on; perhaps because many are yet to let go of an outdated associated stigma.

Some loneliness of course is temporary and a short experience as part of the human condition; but loneliness can be more extended and challenging. 17% of older people have less than weekly contact with family, friends and neighbours. Covid and cuts to social services have made this worse.

Judaism has a long history wrestling with the issue of how to support those who are lonely to flourish. From Genesis “It is not good for humanity to be alone” to the Talmud’s “a captive cannot release himself from prison”, there are many stories of individuals who have experienced loneliness and how they have found ways to transcend or improve that experience.

You probably know someone lonely, but in the back of your head you know you’re busy and have only so much time to give. However we cannot stand by as a community, or just hope our communal institutions will plug the gap on our behalf.

Do one small thing after reading this; get someone you know who might be lonely to contact their social prescriber via their GP.

Social Prescribers work alongside GPs to help people find non-medical solutions to a range of issues including loneliness. They refer people to a variety of support organisations such as Two Generations, which find carefully vetted housemates for people living alone who need a bit of support (a “Homeshare”), as well as befriending schemes, local clubs and charities.

Homesharing is a particularly effective sustained solution to loneliness; the only thing needed to create intergenerational friendships is a spare room. It gives many older and other isolated people a renewed sense of purpose through sharing their life experience, as well as connecting with others.

Betty, a Jewish lady who used to live alone, was recently matched with a Homesharer. “My homesharer is wonderful and she is like another member of the family. Having her has been amazing; this has allowed me to sleep so much better because someone is here tonight, it’s a great sense of security. This has also allowed me to stay in my home which has made me so incredibly happy. This has been a success, far more than I ever expected”.

The theme of this year’s loneliness week is acceptance; the idea that it is an experience, not a condition; and that there are solutions.

Making that one call will help someone you know live, independently, for longer. 5 minutes of your time could make years of difference to someone else.

Please don’t ignore the pandemic that doesn’t affect you personally.

About the Author
Sam Brandman is the Chief Executive of Two Generations Homeshare, an organisation dedicated to reducing loneliness, maintaining the independence of older and disabled people, giving unpaid carers a break, and reducing accommodation costs for younger people.
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