Let’s focus on older veterans’ mental health

To mark mental health awareness week The Age Scotland Veterans’ Project highlights the mental health needs of older veterans.


First, a myth to bust.  It’s not common for military veterans to have combat-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Yes, it happens, and can be debilitating for those living with it.  Yet according to Scotland’s Veterans’ Commissioner ‘the vast majority of those leaving the military do so without severe mental health problems and cope well with the transition to civilian life.’

 

So, no need for concern?  Wrong.  There are almost a quarter of a million veterans in Scotland who have their share of mental health problems common in the wider population, including depression, general anxiety or stress related disorders.  Almost half of those veterans are aged 75 or older, and so are at more risk of experiencing loneliness and isolation as a result of the big life changes ageing can bring.

While mental health awareness is increasing in the military, older veterans will have left service at a time when understanding and support was much more limited.  The Veterans’ Commissioner has also highlighted how the ‘military is historically associated with a culture of heavy drinking’ and that, while much has been done within the military to shift behaviours, ‘alcohol misuse is still significantly higher than amongst the general population.’  And then there is the pride, stoicism and self-reliance instilled by military life: qualities that are advantageous while in service, but potentially disadvantageous when it comes to admitting vulnerability and seeking help in civilian life.

The good news is that there is a wide range of help and support to enable older veterans enjoy the best possible mental health and wellbeing, including Combat Stress and Veterans First Point.  Comradeship, the strong bonds forged in military service, can also support mental wellbeing among veterans.  Many of our partners in Unforgotten Forces make huge contributions to enabling isolated older veterans to enjoy comradeship, including Legion Scotland, Luminate, Poppyscotland, Music in Hospitals & Care, Erskine and Fares4Free.

Older veterans who have mental health problems arising from, or made worse by, their service, may be eligible for compensation from the Ministry of Defence.  Under the War Pension scheme, which applies to conditions related to service before 2005, there is no time limit for claims.  For such conditions veterans are also entitled to priority healthcare, meaning that they should be prioritised over to other patients with the same level of clinical need.  The Armed Services Advice Project can give advice where that may not have been the case.

Pre-order your free copy of The Veterans’ Guide to Later Life in Scotland call 0800 12 44 222 or email publications@agescotland.org.uk.

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Tackling isolation among older veterans

Loneliness and isolation can affect older people generally, but there can be additional challenges tackling it for veterans.  Often they miss social contact with other veterans, who understand their experiences, and with whom they can enjoy the bond of military comradeship.  Doug Anthoney from the Age Scotland Veterans’ Project visited a project in Motherwell that offers veterans just that.


A cold Friday morning and my taxi awaits by Glasgow Queen Street Station.  “Get in,” says the driver, “I got you a coffee.” If that doesn’t sound like an ordinary taxi, that’s because it isn’t.  David Gibson is both co-ordinator and a driver for Fares4Free: a charity that arranges taxis for veterans who are isolated and unable to get to important services, and one of Age Scotland’s partners in the Unforgotten Forces consortium.  Today we’re off to the Veterans’ Café at Kings Church in Motherwell: VC@KC for short.

On the way we pick up Rosie, a nurse who supports veterans with health issues to attend the café for their first few weeks.  Today she’s off-duty however, and going because she’s a veteran herself.  We also collect a veteran who has been isolated and is going to the café for the first time.  As we drive it becomes clear that David’s service goes far beyond transport: he is a listening ear, information source and problem solver for veterans.  “Sometimes veterans wont’ share their problems for a long time,” he says.  “It’s only after you’ve been driving them for months, even years, that you’ll have built up the trust for them to tell you.”

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More than just transport; David offers a transport: listening ear, is a source of helpful information and a problem solver for veterans.

We arrive at the Café, and it’s buzzing.  There are over 40 veterans; some young, but most older.  I talk to one who did national service.  “I feel a bit guilty, not really a veteran like the others,” he says.  Julie Muir, who co-founded the café in 2015, says this is not uncommon.  “We had a man here who had served in military air traffic control; and he didn’t feel entitled.  We persuaded him that of course he was a veteran, and helped him get his service medal.  He and his family were so chuffed.”

Julie and her husband Scott left military service in 2002, but found resettlement hard and support structures inadequate.  “We thought, if we struggled with no debt, no kids, and no health problems, then how much harder will it be for veterans who face such problems.”

The café had a slow start.  “Initially there were more volunteers than veterans,” says Julie.  Attendance really picked up when they learned about veterans’ housing that was being built.  “We got a list of the houses and popped round with hampers for the veterans.  Now we have around 20 regulars, and there are about ten for whom it’s the only thing they go to.”

So why does it work? “We’ve learned that a military-style environment is the last thing you need,” says Julie.  “Some served for a few days, some for 22 years.  No one gets treated any differently, and all feel they belong.  We don’t make distinctions between the services.  Everyone looks out for each other, and there are no cliques.”  It also helps that it’s a café. “For some of the guys, they really don’t want to go near a bar!”

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“No one gets treated any differently, and all feel they belong.  We don’t make distinctions between the services.  Everyone looks out for each other, and there are no cliques.”

The café is a hub for veterans’ services, including Unforgotten Forces partners such as the Armed Services Advice Project and Defence Medical Welfare Service.  It’s also about helping veterans’ families, including in some instances respite time for veterans’ carers.  “We’ve got new funding and plans to expand,” says Julie.  We want to offer more activities such as gardening and cooking.  Many of our veterans feel they’ve got a lot, now they would like to give back.”


To find out what the Veterans’ Project can do for older veterans, and for clubs, groups and services that would like to work with them, visit www.agescotland.org.uk/veterans.

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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.

Communities coming together at Christmas

While most of us are looking forward to the festive period, this can be the loneliest time of year for thousands of older people throughout Scotland. Around 80,000 older people say that the TV is their only source of company over Christmas and New Year, with nearly one in five keeping it on all day because “it’s lovely to hear human voices”.

Our Christmas campaign “No one should have no one”, aims to highlight the extent of loneliness and isolation in Scotland and encourage people to take action in their communities. We’ve been delighted to hear back from so many amazing people who are doing their part to bring people together over the festive period.

Here are the fantastic Christmas Day and Boxing Day events on offer that we have heard about. You can do your part by helping spread the word about these and any other events in your local community!

ORKNEY

Age Scotland Orkney and the Salvation Army are hosting a Christmas Day lunch for anyone who would otherwise be spending Christmas Day alone. Transport can be provided. Event details

RENFREWSHIRE

A Renfrewshire based project providing Christmas lunch; including transport, 3 course dinner, entertainment and a little gift and for those who are financially struggling a gift card to use in supermarket. Event details

GLASGOW

The No.1 Befriending Agency and The Real Junk Food Project Glasgow are offering a three course Christmas lunch on Boxing Day. Event details

EDINBURGH

Open doors and free Christmas dinner as part of the Edinburgh Cheer campaign. From 11am at Tynecastle stadium in West Edinburgh and from 11:45am at Easter Road Stadium in North Edinburgh > Event details

DUMFRIES

Lochside Community Centre have offered an open invitation for Christmas dinner and entertainment from 1pm to 6pm on Christmas Day > Event details

“Altogether Christmas” Day Party at Noblehill Community Centre – including cold buffet, festive treats with music and carols > Event details

KILMARNOCK

Head along to the Back to Basics Christmas Day drop in lunch – The Base, Grange Church, Woodstock Street, Kilmarnock 12-2pm on Christmas Day. All welcome – no questions, no charge.

DALKEITH

Newbattle Parish Church Ministry Team are offering a 3-course Christmas dinner for people who would otherwise be alone. Transport within 3 miles of Mayfield (EH22 ) can be arranged and venue is wheelchair accessible. Contact Erika Pryde at erika@newbattleparish.org

PENICUIK

Free four course Christmas meal with a gift at St James the Less Church Hall in Penicuik > Event details


If you have an event to add to our list please contact emma.bisset@agescotland.org.uk

Have a Merry Christmas!

 

 

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.

Break Away – a new service for veterans

Age Scotland is proud to be partnering with Poppyscotland as part of the Unforgotten Forces consortium. Unforgotten Forces is a partnership between 14 leading organisations which will deliver a range of new services and enhancements for older veterans living in Scotland. We hear from Poppyscotland on an exciting new service for veterans.


As part of the Unforgotten Forces project, Poppyscotland are proud to launch an exciting new service, Break Away, providing much-needed breaks for veterans aged 65 and older. Poppyscotland recognise the value of a break and the boost it can give to a person’s health and wellbeing. The service is aimed at anyone who would benefit from a holiday, whether it’s coping with ill health or bereavement, or for those who just need a change of scene and some new company.

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The Break Away service will run throughout the year and can be enjoyed anywhere in the UK.  Each break will be tailored to meet the individual’s circumstances and break preference, with many packages providing disability-access coaches, hotels and activities. The cost of the break, travel costs and a small pot of additional spending money will be made available.

For some, the break might be a six-day escape to the Highlands, taking in the ‘Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond’, the mountaintops of the Cairngorms and the beautiful valleys of the rivers Spey and Dee. Others might prefer a trip to South Devon’s glorious coast for a relaxing stay in Torquay. Here they can enjoy sandy beaches, a lively waterfront and the chance to take an excursion on the famous Flying Scotsman. These are just a few of the options available.

Respite breaks are also available for those with more complex personal care needs such as a severe physical disability or medical condition.  You and your partner / carer can be taken on a break that will be tailor-made for you and give you both the much-needed holiday that you can really enjoy.

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All applications will be assessed on a basis of welfare need and means, and you must be 65 or over.

If you are an eligible veteran, or if you know of someone who might qualify, we would love to hear from you.  For more information about the service or to make an application for a break, please contact Louise Maiden, Breaks Coordinator on email: breakaway@poppyscotland.org.uk or tel: 0131 550 1557.

To find out more about Age Scotland’s Veteran’s Project please visit our website.