Blog: Picking a line

Dr Jonathon Gray, CEO, South West Academic Health Science Network

I’ve been reflecting on a recent conversation which has really troubled me – up to one in three of us will develop dementia in later life. Huge numbers, and a huge challenge to our health and care systems as well as to wider society.

I was working away as I sat down to our family tradition of Sunday dinner. The numbers of us vary, but we always try to get together to eat a roast – with Yorkshire puddings of course. The conversation drifted between topics then out came the story of a dear friend of my wife.

You know when you are approaching a checkout in the supermarket, you scan the queues and look for the shortest or fastest? Well, this friend has chosen a different way. She deliberately chooses a line where she is stood behind an elderly person, perhaps someone who looks as though they are struggling a little. She deliberately engages them in conversation, helps them load their shopping on the conveyor belt, and helps them pack: all the while talking to them and reducing their anxiety.

Our friend reports a sense that this is often the only interaction the person has had for some time. The responses have been heart-warming and positive. A ‘moment’ of kindness and support. Imagine what this might do for loneliness amongst older people, and the benefit someone in the early stages of dementia would gain from such gentle support.

In parts of Cornwall, Devon and Somerset, we’ve been working with people in later life to find out what would improve their experience of ageing. Making connections and tackling loneliness is one of six themes the Transform Ageing programme is asking social entrepreneurs to respond to with creative solutions.

We can all play our part. How easy would it be for each of us to ‘pick a line’ where we can do a little for members of our society? What an impact we could make collectively to reduce loneliness, anxiety, confusion and uncertainty for people in later life. I have no doubt that this could reduce the number of older people who end up in hospital and increase the chances they are able to return to their own home. Most importantly, we can show we are a caring society that comes together, and then anything is possible – it starts with just choosing a line.

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