UK Older People’s Day (Part 7)

01 Oct 2014

For UK Older People’s Day 2014, each month has been designated with a particular theme.  For October, the theme is ‘Full of Life’

I used to be a classic workaholic, and after seeing how little work and career mean when you reach the end of your life, I put a new emphasis on things I believe count more. These things include: family, friends, being part of a community, and appreciating the little joys of the average day." - Mitch Albom.

Sonia says :

So UK Older People’s Day (1 October) has arrived. Lots of organisations will be running events up and down the country, engaging older people in activity that demonstrates that your age is not a hindrance to being active and making a contribution to society. The real question though is what happens the day after?

The biggest issue older people face is increasingly being acknowledged as isolation and loneliness. Activity does not always counteract this as we can feel just as lonely in a group as we do on our own in front of the TV.

A few weeks ago this was really brought home to me as I walked through the day centre on my way to a meeting. An elderly gentleman was sitting in the foyer alone. As I dashed past I said good morning and asked if he was ok. He replied, no and I asked if I could get him anything. His response has stuck with me – ‘I really could do with a hug’ – oh I know that feeling well, I thought, so I gave him a hug. ‘I feel so much better’ was his response and mine – so did I.

I don’t tell this story for people to feel sorry for the gentleman in question, or to create a discussion around boundaries and professionalism (should I hug a stranger etc etc). I use it, and the quote from Mitch Albom, to remind us that ‘Full of Life’ means so many different things to different people. For some it will be the activity that makes them feel useful or fulfilled but for others life is about human contact – verbal or physical.

Over the past three years we have worked hard on creating a supportive community programme that doesn’t just bring people together but encourages them to seek out like-minded people from their community that they connect with. That connection may be as simple as an exchange of phone numbers and a regular telephone chat, to a game of scrabble or a meal out together in a favourite restaurant. The strap-line of ‘Not just a Tea Party’ reminds the organisers that it is the relationships that are created between members and the interactions they have between each tea that is the important part, not the tea party itself which is only the catalyst.

UK Older People’s Day comes each year in the middle of the month of Jewish holidays, including our New Year and Day of Atonement when we look back at what we have done and achieved and forward to what we could do better. If we all resolved to make a little more human contact available to everyone, think of the impact we could make on people’s lives. If we all resolved that each activity we organise for any age group would ensure that people interact with others and encourage friendships, then truly we would achieve the ‘Year full of Life’ that the organisers of this annual event are encouraging.

Sonia Douek is Head of volunteering and community development at Jewish Care and has developed a strategy for the organisation that has seen the growth of volunteers in the organisation reach 3,000 people.