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Isolation in the elderly, facing up to the challenge

20 August 2012

Vicki Purewal, Head of Nesta’s Centre for Challenge Prizes writes a guest post for Forster

Today we work longer hours, later into our lives. Jobs continue to cut deeper into our existence as our work ethic intensifies and this has had a profound effect on many people’s social lives. Longer working hours have left many people relying on their careers, not only to maintain a sense of self worth, but also to fill a social purpose.

In a recent poll one third of British workers confessed that the majority of their friends are colleagues from work and that their primary source of social interaction occurred in the work place. A sociable and rewarding working environment is no problem during our working years but what happens when we reach retirement? Could this lead to isolation?

Most people find leaving work and embarking on retirement a joyous stage of life; suddenly more leisure time is available which can be enjoyed surrounded by loved ones. But for those who put everything into work and little elsewhere, the end of a career can signify life slowing down a little too much. When the sociable lifeline work formerly provided is cut off and a sense there is little left to contribute or feel valued for creeps in, it is not surprising that retirement can result in loneliness, isolation and depression.

What if we could find ways of keeping work based contacts together, rather than losing touch when they retire? At the same time, could we maintain a sense of being valued for what we have done and can still do, however old we are? These are some of the many challenges that must be overcome in the struggle against isolation and loneliness.

But, by bringing people together perhaps we can reduce isolation and increase the mobility of vulnerable older people, by creating new opportunities for people to give time, skills and resources.Could creating employer or career alumni associations with the same vigour and purpose as those in academiabe one way of reducing isolation in older generations?

Nesta, the UK’s innovation foundation, has recognised the need for great ideas like this by creating the Ageing Well Challenge, part of a series of challenge prizes to reward and test innovative ideas that can meet challenges faced by society today. The Ageing Well Challenge has been set up specifically to encourage innovative ideas that reduce isolation in older people. The winning idea will receive up to £50,000.

Older people are an integral part of our community but isolation remains a real problem. Maintaining a sense of being valued in old age is vital and innovative ideas that can preserve this through the giving of time, skills and resources will be invaluable to our ageing society.

If you have an idea that you think can help to reduce isolation in old age, apply at