Older people in the West Country are becoming increasingly isolated as neighbours fail to take notice of their basic needs.
According to a new report from the charity Age UK, one in four people aged 65 or more in the South West are not getting any help, support or companionship from people on their doorstep.
“It is a sad fact of life,” said Tom Williams, chairman of a Pensioners and 50-Plus Action Group in the region. “Times have changed and this has been happening more and more over the years. People are busy with their own lives and they don’t pop into each others houses any more.
He added: “We all know individuals who have children who live abroad, in America and Australia, and the chances are they aren’t coming back. These people are all right when they are living as a couple, but when one dies the survivor tends to get very lonely. It’s a real problem, but it’s hard to know what to do.”
Mr Williams, who is a keen advocate of over-50s getting more involved in their community, said older people were sometimes guilty of apathy themselves.
“It goes both ways. Older people need to get out more and be more vocal as well.”
The survey from Age UK marks the launch of their Spread the Warmth winter campaign. The charity says the coldest months can be the most difficult for thousands of older people. It is calling on neighbours to help older residents in their local community.
They say the colder weather brings with it a massive increase in associated health problems for older people, including heart attacks and strokes, respiratory problems, pneumonia and depression.
According to the charity, as many as 25,000 older people could die needlessly this winter because of the cold, equivalent to 200 preventable deaths a day. Age UK’s research reveals that half of people aged 65 or more in the South West are concerned about staying warm at home.
As the cold weather and shorter days kick in, people find it more difficult to get out and about, with 46 per cent of the age group concerned about falling over on slippery pavements.
Nearly a quarter of those surveyed said they were worried about not being able to get out and about as much.
Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director General of Age UK, said: “The winter can cause misery, avoidable illness and even death for too many older people. We’re hoping to inspire everyone to act now to do their bit to lessen the impact of winter for older people this year. There is something simple that everyone can do from popping in to check on an older neighbour to making time for older relatives.
“As we experienced as a nation this summer, it feels good to come together and help each other out.
“Small things and a friendly face make all the difference.”