Isolation Week, 20 to 26 June 2011
Social worker Pam Stopforth finds out what it is to be lonely and isolated for a week
Liverpool-based social worker Pam Stopforth is one of 11 people experiencing social isolation as if she were an isolated older person in a social experiment called Isolation Week.
Organised by the charity Friends of the Elderly, the event took place from Monday 20 June 2011 through to Sunday 26 June 2011 with the aim of raising awareness of the effects of social isolation.
During this time Pam was confined to her home without any human contact, with only her television for company and she had to use special equipment such as gloves and vision-impairing glasses to experience the effects of aging.
We followed Pam's experiences through a daily diary and video blog and through a one-way Twitter account - @pam_iweek
To see the original article, daily diary and video blog
Also please visit:
To see the Twitter "Isolation Week” account with the hashtag #isolationweek
Volunteers to live life of the isolated elderly
A team of volunteers did an unusual experiment - for one week they were each living a life cut off from the world around them.
There were no conversations, no phones, no interactions with other people at all, with only the TV for company.
They were trying to reproduce the experience of more than a million elderly people who live lonely and isolated lives.
And for one of the 10 volunteers, 23-year-old drama student Christie Vincett, it was a long week.
She said goodbye to her boyfriend and flatmates and was preparing to do without all the paraphernalia that we take for granted.
So it was goodbye too to her mobile phone and to text messaging, and there was no Facebook updates either.
Christie and the other volunteers recorded their experiences on a video diary and were able to post one-way Tweets, but there was no other contact with the outside world.
"I'm feeling a little bit apprehensive and a little bit scared", said Christie.
We send birthday cards to some of our beneficiaries and often they say it's the only one they get and they keep it up all year”
"But I'm looking forward to it at the same time, it'll be quite interesting.
"It's an experience for me and I'll learn something and I'm doing it for a good cause. But actually it's a serious issue for so many people."
In her flat in Golders Green in north London, Christie unpacked various bits of kit sent to her by the charity Friends of the Elderly, who were organising the Isolation Week experiment.
So there were socks to fill with dried peas, beans and popcorn kernels which mimicked the painful sensation of walking on arthritic feet.
Distorting, fuzzy glasses gave an impression of what it is like to live with impaired vision like cataracts or glaucoma.
And diving gloves made it hard to pick things up or to manipulate simple items like a knife and fork as though you had arthritis.
All the equipment was designed to reproduce the physical challenges of ageing as well as the mental toll that living an isolated life can bring.
It was not surprising then that Christie has mixed feelings.
"I've got to try on all these pieces of equipment and experience some of what an elderly person would experience.
"But it's only for a short amount of time and then I get to come out of it, whereas many elderly people are experiencing this for years and years and years."
"I can't imagine what that must feel like. You do take advantage of the people around you when you call or text or Facebook a friend.
"That communication is so quick - and to have that cut away for a week will be quite hard. I think I'll find myself going to call or text and then realise that I can't."
Isolated and lonely
And research suggests that, while a million older people live isolated and lonely lives, another million more feel trapped in their own homes.
One in five older people see other people less than once a week.
Those statistics would be recognised by many of the residents at the Sir Thomas Lipton Memorial Home in Southgate.
It was originally set up as a retirement home for nurses and is now run by Friends of the Elderly.
One of the residents, Betty Judge, lived alone for most of her life.
She says she coped well most of the time, but there were occasions when it was tough.
"I did get the feeling of depression once. That was awful. I couldn't sort of ward it off. It would just come over you.
"I just left it and thought 'It'll pass', and I said a little prayer. That's how you get by.
"Then you think perhaps I should have had a family, but I wasn't the type for that."
In fact elderly people who live a life of isolation are more prone to depression - and are less likely to try and get help and support.
But Jenny Sykes of Friends of the Elderly says overcoming loneliness doesn't have to be complicated.
"If you see an older person in the supermarket, you might be able to help them take that jar down off the shelf. And then don't run off - just smile at them and see if they want a little chat.
"So it can be something as small as that. It can be making sure your neighbour is OK, having a chat over the garden fence.
"And then don't let's forget our elderly relatives. Birthday cards can be so important to them.
"At Friends of the Elderly we send birthday cards to some of our beneficiaries and often they say it's the only one they get and they keep it up all year."
So while it is a difficult week for Christie and her fellow volunteers, many more elderly people face a life of loneliness day in, day out.
- The 10 Isolation Week volunteers couldn't leave their homes, speak to anyone face-to-face, on the phone or over the internet
- Possible effects of isolation include loneliness, depression and a reduced likelihood of accessing support and services
- Isolation can mean living in a remote location but also 'emotional' isolation, having no-one to interact with.
- More than a million elderly people live isolated and lonely lives
- Another million elderly people feel trapped in their own homes
Please visit "Friends of the Elderly” channel on You Tube to see more videos for Isolation Week: -