Older person

taking steps to reduce social isolation amongst older people

To mark Older People's Day on 1 October, Kathryn Shaw, our Comms and PR manager, discusses how we're helping older people walk more - boosting health and reducing loneliness.

Kath Shaw

At Living Streets, we believe that walking is the solution to a host of issues facing society, including social isolation – something which affects large numbers of older people in the UK.

The most recent statistics (ONS) suggest that 1.4 million older people are lonely, with Age UK predicting that this will rise to 2 million within seven years.

People over 50 are more likely to be lonely if they are widowed, in poor health, or feel like they aren’t part of their local community. By ensuring our streets are accessible, we can encourage and enable older people to walk more – helping them stay part of their local community and connect with their neighbours, all while getting some exercise.

Since April 2013 over 700 older people have taken part in our walking projects. And those small steps have had big results...

68% = more connected with their community

 

76% = fitter or healthier

 

70% = less lonely or isolated

80% = less stressed or anxious

Walking with older people

Community Street audits

Our community street audits give older people the opportunity to have their say on their local streets and can help identify any barriers preventing them from walking more, such as cars parking on the pavements, a lack of resting places or inadequate crossings. We then work with local authorities and partners to achieve improvements.

In Sheffield, Living Streets engaged with local communities to identify improvements to local streets, and led walks to help older people feel safer and more able to walk in their local area.

We were joined on one community street audit by June, a resident from a local care home. June uses a mobility scooter and described the crossing to her doctor’s surgery as a ‘nightmare’. When a crossing was formed, June said that “going across to the doctor now is marvellous – ever so straight and flat.”

Sheffield Age Better

Sheffield lunchtime walks

Led walks

As well as the audits, the project involved running led walks, where we were joined by John. He said he didn’t go out because he had no one to walk with; our ‘Wednesday Walks’ linked John up with activities happening in his area - a nature group, community centre and coffee morning. John became noticeably fitter. Whereas initially he would feel exhausted by the slight climb through the local park, by the end of the walks he would complain if they weren’t long enough.

John on his walks

It makes you feel more social - mixing with different people that aren’t your neighbours and having a chat with different people about different things.

John, Sheffield resident

And earlier this year, Living Streets launched a unique initiative in Birmingham which aimed to support staff from a local company to tackle social isolation amongst the over-65s. ‘Wythall Walking Friends’ saw a group of staff volunteers from Phoenix Group – a local insurance company - trained by Living Streets to run a series of led walks.

The walking initiative has already helped to reduce isolation in the local community; encouraging new friendships, increasing exercise and discovering natural points of interest - thus helping to reduce the risk of depression and dementia. 

One woman had not been out since November the previous year but said afterwards that she had the confidence to go walking; two other women who met on the walks were former friends and hadn’t realised they lived nearby. The walk leader commented that often it was ‘more talk than walk’ – that the older people enjoyed the time to socialise and connect more than anything else.

Older people

the bigger picture

As well as local activity, Living Streets runs national campaigns to make walking safer and easier for older people – including calls for safer crossings, ice-free pavements in winter and an end to pavement parking.

The Government has set up an £11 million fund to better connect people across the country and their soon-to-be published Loneliness Strategy aims to be a step towards overcoming social isolation within society. We look forward to seeing the details of these plans. 

In the meantime, if you have older people in your life - take a walk with them. This simple act of going for a walk with a companion could help tackle loneliness.