30th July is International Day of Friendship; set up by the United Nations, the aim was to unite people and bring peace around the world. But friendship has many more benefits beyond promoting international harmony: it's key to our wellbeing – and it's central to the services that we provide for our home care clients.
The benefits of friendshipThe opposite of friendship is, of course, loneliness, which is particularly a problem for many older people. According to the British Red Cross (https://www.redcross.org.uk/get-help/get-help-with-loneliness), it is a hidden epidemic in the UK that is negatively impacting on people's wider health and wellbeing. A report in 2015 by Nesta and the Cabinet Office concluded that loneliness is as damaging as smoking and obesity; research (https://www.ageuk.org.uk/information-advice/health-wellbeing/loneliness/) by Age UK found that loneliness can be as harmful to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
By contrast, many studies have shown the positive benefits of friendship on social, emotional and physical well-being, with people who have one or more good friends generally being in better health than those who don't. The benefits of friendship for the elderly listed by Age UK include:
- Better heart health
- Boost to the body's auto-immune systems to resist disease.
- Less stress
Friendship – at the heart of everything we doWe are often first contacted by older people or their relatives in the Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge and Sevenoaks areas because they are finding life increasingly difficult on a physical level; maybe they need help washing, preparing food or can no longer keep on top of the housework. Our care plans list the physical things our carers need to do to enable our home care clients to continue to live a fulfilling life in their own home.
But the care our carers deliver goes far beyond this checklist. Key to providing outstanding domiciliary care is building up meaningful relationships with our clients. It's one of the reasons we insist on minimum visits of one-hour; we don't just want our carers rushing through a tick list – we want them to have time to chat and get to know their clients. It enables them to be much more than a carer – it enables them to be their friend, and to help deliver all those wonderful benefits that friendship brings.
This is especially important for our clients who don't routinely have many other visitors, but it also means our carers can pick up on the little signs that something may not quite be right, to make sure that we adapt our home care services to meet our clients' changing needs.
Combating lonelinessWe all have a role to play to make sure that our elderly relatives and neighbours aren't lonely. So, what can you do? Suggestions from the NHS include:
- Get them to a day centre: A local day centre will provide activities and friendship. You can look for ones near you at Age UK – many of them provide transport as well (https://www.ageuk.org.uk/services/in-your-area/transport/).
- Organise or suggest community events: A simple weekly event can greatly increase happiness and may lead to friendship among other people there. Try searching for local events in your area for your loved one to visit.
- Teatime: Just having the occasional afternoon tea and cake can be very beneficial and combat the loneliness someone you know may be suffering from.
- Give them a call: Sometimes a nice chat on the phone can go a long way. It might be worth just giving them a ring from time to time to discuss what their day has been like and how they've been feeling.
International Friendship Day was set up to promote world peace. Delivering that may not be in our gift – but tackling loneliness on our doorstep is.