Ending Isolation in Scotland – Glasgow Loneliness Summit

It has a reputation as one of the UK’s friendliest and most welcoming cities. So you might be surprised to learn that two thirds of Glaswegians have experienced loneliness.

Not only are they reluctant to talk about it, but it’s a growing problem. Nine out of 10 residents think they’re more likely than ever to be lonely as they get older.

These figures were revealed by the Campaign to End Loneliness ahead of today’s Loneliness Summit, held at Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall with the city council. Following the Scottish Government’s new strategy on tackling loneliness and isolation, it’s a chance to address this modern epidemic.

After an opening by Poet Laureate Jackie Kay, speakers will include Age Scotland’s Senior Policy Officer Derek Young and Tressa Burke of the Glasgow Disability Alliance.

Of course, loneliness can affect us at any age and no matter where we live. But we’re more likely to be affected as we get older due to retirement, bereavement, loss of mobility or long-term illness.

Around one in 10 older people in Scotland feel lonely most or all of the time – a staggering 100,000 people throughout the country. One in six haven’t spoken to a friend or neighbour in a week, while forty per cent say the TV is their main form of company.

This is having a devastating impact on mental and physical health, increasing risk of death by 10 per cent and exacerbating heart disease, blood clots and cancer. Our recent research with the Mental Health Foundation found that a quarter of older people have experienced depression as a result of loneliness.

So what can we do about this? There is still a reluctance, especially among an older generation to seek help. They often fear being a burden on family and friends, with almost a third saying they just need to cope by themselves.

The Scottish Government’s strategy – the first of its kind worldwide – is an important first step. It acknowledges that a lot of the expertise and potential for tackling isolation already exists in our communities and organisations such as Age Scotland, with its 1000 member groups around the country.

But there are more concrete steps to take, such as investing in accessible and affordable transport, maintaining community hubs, and identifying those most at risk. And we can all play our part by reaching out to friends, relatives, colleagues and neighbours, creating a compassionate and inclusive society where nobody is forgotten about.

Starting those conversations is key, and we hope events like today’s summit will highlight the problem and encourage people to talk about it.

Watch our twitter feed for more updates from the event throughout the day.

Introducing our man in the North: Age Scotland’s Veteran’s Project

This autumn Steve Henderson joined Age Scotland as dedicated Community Development Officer for the charity’s new Veterans’ Project with a peripatetic remit spanning the north of Scotland.  We asked Steve, a veteran himself, about his background and aspirations for the project.

Steve joined the Army (Royal Regiment of Artillery) in 1983, with which he served as both soldier and officer until 2006.  He then moved with his family to Abu Dhabi in United Arab Emirates where he worked on a ten-year military training management implementation programme.  After returning to UK early 2015, he eventually settled back home in Scotland and his career took a new direction with Dementia Friendly Communities (DFC) Helmsdale. IMG_0073 (2).JPG

The Age Scotland Veterans’ Project attracted him because “following a successful military career I saw it as an opportunity to give something back to a community of veterans who have served before me.”   The need he anticipates among older members of the veterans’ community include loneliness and isolation.  “This is an issue in general, but it can be exacerbated by being a veteran,” he says.  “Veterans tend to speak a different language; they have their own ‘craic.’  There are some things they won’t feel comfortable speaking about in a civilian environment, but will talk to other veterans about.

“There can also be a culture of self-reliance that means you don’t go to the doctor unless your arm is falling off. Some veterans will only ask for help when they’ve reached crisis point.”

Sensory impairment is another problem.  “Ear protection for the military didn’t come in until late 1990s,” says Steve.  His own hearing has been affected by proximity to rocket launches.

Perhaps the biggest issue however is that many people who are entitled to additional help and support inadvertently miss out.  “Lots of individuals don’t class themselves as a veteran, particularly those who did national service.  We want to make sure that older veterans can benefit from all the help and support available via Age Scotland and from our Unforgotten Forces partner organisations.

Steve has been delighted with the response so far to the project at recent Age Scotland network meetings and in meetings with individual groups.  “People think it is money well spent: not least the fact that Aged Veterans’ Fund funding comes ultimately from LIBOR banking fines.”  Steve’s next steps are to engage with more groups, both among Age Scotland’s membership and within the veterans’ community.  “One of the things I’m keen to do is introduce these groups to each other, so that more veterans can benefit from all that’s on offer from the charity’s members,” says Steve.  “I will also be available to enable people to access the information and advice they need, and to deliver training where applicable.”

632x305_veterans_projectIf you are part of a community group in the North or North East of Scotland and would like to make contact with Steve, you can call him on 07808 024801 or email steve.henderson@agescotland.org.uk.   Visit www.agescotland.org.uk/veterans

Don’t fear the D word 

Dementia is a word that strikes terror in many.  And no wonder: newspapers regularly feature headlines that sensationalize the ‘misery’ of dementia ‘sufferers’.   Yet there is a growing number of people with dementia who are active as campaigners, and they reject such language as stigmatizing.  Instead, they call themselves people who are living with dementia.  In one survey more than two thirds said they were living well with dementia.

Does the way we talk about dementia matter?  Yes.  A recent survey of the general public by the Alzheimer’s Society asked: “if you had a physical symptom, would you see a doctor right away?”  60 per cent of the sample said they would.  However, asked whether they would see a doctor right away for a non-physical symptom, such as a memory problem, only 2 per cent said yes.  For many people, fear of discovering that they have dementia will keep them from talking to their GP.

It’s beneficial for people who are worried about their thinking to get it checked out as soon as possible.  They may learn that their symptoms aren’t caused by dementia.  Did you know that memory loss, the symptom most associated with dementia, can also be caused by other things such as stress, depression, infections, nutritional deficiencies and even lack of sleep?  Moreover, with around 100 types of dementia that can affect the brain in different ways, memory loss is not necessary the first sign.  The range of early dementia symptoms includes reading problems, difficulty judging distance, less fluency when speaking, and even becoming less kind and caring.  Because of this a diagnosis can take time to reach: other possible causes need to be ruled out.

Getting a diagnosis is worthwhile, as without it you won’t be able to get support to live well with dementia.  In Scotland everyone who receives a diagnosis is entitled to personalized support which, if their dementia is in its early stages, will be from a Dementia Link Worker.  Link Workers can help someone understand and adjust to their diagnosis, to plan for the future, and to get the support they need to live well with dementia.

That support can come from a range of sources, including other people with dementia, and opportunities to enjoy supported activities, from singing to sport.  Did you know that many of the things that help people to live well with dementia are the same as those that make it less likely someone will get dementia in the first place?  Physical exercise, eating well, staying within safe alcohol guidelines, stopping smoking, socialising and challenging the brain can all play a part.

Age Scotland’s Early Stage Dementia project offers free guide booklets on a wide range of dementia related topics.  You can request these from the Age Scotland Helpline: 0800 12 44 222.

A new Men’s Shed for Broughty Ferry!

Our vision is of a Scotland where everyone can love later life. We’re delighted to have been able to offer community development support to men’s sheds over the last four years. Another Men’s Shed recently open their doors to the communtity for the first time.

More than 50 people attended the Grand Opening of Broughty Ferry Men’s Shed on Saturday 14 October. The shed will bring older men together to work on practical projects, socialise and share skills.

The YMCA gave the group the use of a derelict hut in its Brook Street grounds, and helped them secure funding from the MOD Fund for wood and metal working tools and equipment. Volunteers have utterly transformed the building, installing heating, windows, doors, and a kitchen and creating a workshop space and IT area.

Age Scotland were delighted to support the project aslongside Rosendael Veterans Association. The shed also received donations from local organisations, businesses and individuals.

Broughty Ferry Men’s Shed is part of a growing movement of “shedders” throughout Scotland. The first Men’s Shed was set up in Aberdeenshire in 2013 and there are now more than 100 nationwide!

Alex Harvey, a retired engineer and chairman of the shed, said: “We want to deal with isolation and bring people into the community. This can particularly affect people who have been bereaved, retired, or made redundant.

“We hope that older people will come along and find some purpose in what we’re doing.  Many people are interested in learning a bit more about DIY, and you can learn something new at any age.”

The shed meets every Tuesday and Thursday from 9.30am to 3.30pm. They ask only donations from attendees, and it is fully accessible to people with disabilities.

Age Scotland’s recent report, The Shed Effect, highlighted the impact these sheds have on improving health and wellbeing, and tackling social isolation among older men.


Keith Robson, Age Scotland’s Charity Director, said: “The hard work and enthusiasm that has gone into this project is truly inspiring, and we’d like to wish them every success. We hope the shed will provide a welcoming space for people to come together, share skills, or just have a blether.

“We know from talking to shedders around the country how much they can improve health and well-being and help tackle loneliness and social isolation. I’d encourage everyone to come along, have a cup of tea, and see what the shed has to offer.”

To find out more about Men’s Sheds, contact the Age Scotland community development team on 0333 32 32 400.

Good Nutrition: the hidden issue

Nutrition is an important but often hidden issue for carers and their families. We hear from Lynne Stevenson BSc from Nutricia Advanced Medical Nutrition on how we can help provide better support for carers around nutritional problems and eating difficulties.

Good nutrition is vital for all of us, but particularly as we age and if we are living with long term conditions.

It’s also crucial for carers, who need to know about good nutrition for the person they are caring for as well as to look after their own health and wellbeing. In a recent survey Carers UK found that 60% of carers worry about the nutritional intake of the person they care for. That is why Carers UK/Carers Scotland are working in partnership with Nutricia Advanced Medical Nutrition to improve understanding about nutrition and caring.   This partnership provides carers with the information and resources on nutritional care for themselves and the person they care for.caring & nutrition photo

The following titles have been produced through the partnership to help provide better support for carers around nutritional problems and eating difficulties.

  • Eating well with COPD
  • Eating well with stroke
  • Eating well with dementia
  • Eating well with cancer
  • The importance of eating well for carers
  • The role of good nutrition when caring for someone
  • Understanding the nutrition gap and how it affects the person you care for
  • Speaking to your GP when you are concerned about the nutritional intake of the person you care for

You can find out more information by visiting the Carers UK website on or the Nutricia website. There is also the opportunity to learn more through an e-learning module.  Like Age Scotland, Carers Scotland and a whole host of organisations working on behalf of older people and carers do so much to highlight the importance of nutrition, and that is why we have been pleased to work to develop these publications to help ensure people have the information they need for good nutrition and healthy living.

download                      carers

Ticking off Munros in your 80s

Keeping active in later life can significantly improve your physical and mental wellbeing. We hear from Kathrine Payne Ramblers Scotland about one of their members Pak Yeong Berry, one inspirational lady ticking off Munros in her eighties.

Many people assume that mountaineering is purely the preserve of the young, but for one Stirling octogenarian, life in the hills has begun in her eighties.

And now that she’s discovered hill-walking, Pak Yeong Berry’s only regret is that she didn’t start sooner.

Pek Yeong Berry, credit Ben Dolphin

Pek Yeong Berry with her fellow ramblers. Photo: Ben Dolphin

Since joining Stirling and Falkirk District Ramblers last year, Pek Yeong has already climbed several big hills, including three of the ‘Munros’ – Scottish mountains over 3,000ft. And she’s got big walking plans for the future.

“I loved walking Ben Chonzie, Schiehallion and Ben Lomond – and I’m looking forward to doing more Munros when the weather allows.

Pek Yeong Berry (RIGHT) 7 may Schiehallion - Copy

Pek Yeong Berry (RIGHT) at the top of Schiehallion

“When I climbed my first Munro, Ben Chonzie, it was muddy, raining and cold. It was pretty horrible actually, but it didn’t put me off.

“It’s all going well for me so far. I don’t think about my age much. I just walk. I hope to tackle more and more mountains for as long as I’m capable of doing them, until I can’t anymore.”

Pek Yeong, aged 81, is now a familiar face at the front of the pack on Stirling and Falkirk District Ramblers’ weekly walks. Her positive attitude and enthusiasm for life are infectious, and she is an inspiration to walkers of any age.

“The first time I went out with the Ramblers, I was worried that I would hold everyone back, but it was fine. I wasn’t the slowest, put it that way!

“The only thing that matters is your ability, rather than your age. I’m fortunate because I’m very healthy and I don’t have any past injuries. If you’re fit, you can do anything and my age doesn’t bother me at all.

“Walking is a great activity to get involved in. We’ve done a bit of everything: mountains, flat walks, all different difficulties and terrains. It’s all new to me and I like the variety, from leisurely to challenging.”

Pek Yeong Berry 25jun. bend double against the wind up bishops hill

Before joining the Ramblers, taking exercise had been difficult for Pek Yeong – as she was focused on caring for her late husband, who had Parkinson’s disease.

“Being a carer limited my opportunities to exercise but when I became a widow last year, a very good friend introduced me to the Ramblers. It was the first time I’d walked in an organised group, and I thought it was great.

“Joining Ramblers was one of the best things I could have done, especially at that moment. I joined the group for exercise and fitness, but also as I was widowed and it was something sociable to do. It’s better than playing bridge or some sort of indoors activity.”

It’s not just rambling that keeps Pek Yeong active these days. She also enjoys regular yoga and belly-dancing!

“I feel like I need exercise, and if I go on holiday for a few days I miss it. At the moment, I do cardio, pilates, yoga, belly dancing. I have classes every week day, sometimes twice a day. It’s important to my lifestyle because it keeps me fit, and it gets me out of the house.

“Going rambling on a Sunday is very pleasant. I feel like I’ve achieved something and there’s nothing going on near me on Sundays, so I’d just be on my own otherwise.”

Pek Yeong had done some walking in Malaysia before emigrating to Scotland in the 1970s, but it’s not until joining the Ramblers that she truly caught the walking bug.

She puts this down to company, motivation, and support that walking in a group can provide.

“For me, walking alone is nothing like walking with others. There’s something about being in a group that’s so much more enjoyable.

“The Ramblers is ideal. It’s friendly, and you can assess if the walks and groups are right for you before you join.

“After our walks, we always go and have a cup of coffee. It’s nice to have a chat with a very caring and friendly bunch of people.

Pek Yeong is excited about having future adventures with the Ramblers, and plans to embrace every opportunity that comes her way – weather permitting.

There is no stopping her drive to remain active, and she’s got a lot more walking (and belly dancing!) yet to come.

To find a walk in your area, go to: ramblers.org.uk/go-walking.aspx

Staying connected to live better with Parkinsons

Having a social life is not an optional extra – staying social helps us to stay well. And for the 11,000 or so people with Parkinson’s in Scotland this is particularly true.  We hear from Parkinsons UK in their guest blog on how they are supporting people in their communities.

Parkinson’s affects adults of all ages, but the overwhelming majority of people are aged over 65. Although often understood as a condition affecting movement, it impacts on every aspect of daily life, including talking, walking, swallowing and writing. Tiredness, pain, depression, dementia, compulsive behaviours and continence problems also have a huge impact.  

A lot of people find their Parkinson’s symptoms embarrassing. They report negative responses such as staring or being accused of being drunk. Mobility and mental health issues can also make it really challenging to get out and about.  

It’s no surprise that people with Parkinson’s become more isolated as their condition progresses, and that unpaid carers have limited opportunities to maintain their social networks.  

That’s why Parkinson’s UK supports over 40 local groups across Scotland, offering friendship and a range of activities to people affected by Parkinson’s. People tell us that they really want to meet with others in similar situations. Sharing experiences can “normalise” Parkinson’s and make it easier to enjoy socialising.  

Many of our local groups offer health and wellbeing activities. Exercise classes, dance, art and walking groups are popular, and we are looking at new ways to make sure that everyone with Parkinson’s in Scotland can access activities even if there isn’t a Parkinson’s group nearby.

Fife Walking Group

Fife Walking Group

We also offer self management courses for people with Parkinson’s and carers. We’ve already run these in Aberdeen, Glasgow, Stirling and Edinburgh, and we’ll be expanding this year.  

Our Local Advisors provide confidential one-to-one information and support. For people who are isolated, this is a real lifeline. We also run an online Forum, a telephone Buddying Service, and are developing face-to-face peer support.

Lanarkshire volunteers

Lanarkshire volunteers

But there is more to be done, and not just for people with Parkinson’s. Making it easy for people to stay connected must be a policy priority. We need to tackle underfunding in social care and support services like befriending, buddying schemes, and day centres.  We need to make our communities as accessible as possible for everyone.  

And most of all we need to confront Scotland’s fears around aging and illness. It’s great to hear the Scottish Government talking positively about older people as assets, but too often this agenda focusses on those who are in good health. Older people who need support must not be “disappeared”. The voices and experiences of older, frailer people – including disabled people and those with conditions like Parkinson’s – must be heard.  

For more information on Parkinson’s support in Scotland, go to www.parkinsons.org.uk/support or phone our free helpline on 0808 800 0303.