The Eldon House in Clifton has started to use beer mats printed with conversational starters to encourage social interaction among men over 65.
The innovative scheme has been launched in the wake of a study by the University of Bristol’s Brigstow Institute. Researchers spent six months analysing the effects of loneliness among older people, and how best to prevent isolation as we age.
Off the back of the research special beermats have been created. Dubbed ‘Beermat(es)’, the mats have trivia questions and games on them.
The study estimated that there are 11 000 lonely older people in Bristol. It also showed that there are noticeably higher rates of loneliness among older men than among older women.
These figures are concerning. Loneliness has serious implications on both mental and physical health. Mark Baker, CEO of Age UK Bristol, said that “mounting evidence shows that loneliness has a serious impact on our health – which in turn can lead to greater reliance on health and social care services”.
NHS research shows that feeling lonely can be as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Isolation increases the risk of conditions including dementia, high blood pressure and depression.
Age UK say that there are many reasons for high levels of loneliness among older people. Families are increasingly geographically scattered, and as more of us use electronic communications this can exclude older people.
Baker went on to say that the organisation encounters “many older men whose networks and friendships were built around work. So when they reach retirement age many of them struggle to find ways to maintain and build new relationships.
“Unfortunately there is still a real stigma around being lonely and men are less likely than women to seek help when they find themselves in that situation”.
The research team from the University of Bristol monitored loneliness in older men and the ways that we can help to minimise it. They held workshops and focus groups with older men, pub landlords and community services over the period of the study.
In their research they found that local pubs can be very important for men over 65.
“Pubs are important in tackling loneliness as they often form the centre of older men’s social interactions”, Silvia Jimenez Cruz of Age UK said.
She went on to say that “pubs tend to be a place that men have frequented throughout their lives, and in a period of change – retirement, ageing, later life divorce – the pub is the constant that remains.”
The study by The Brigstow Institute discovered that older men still see the pub as the heart of their community, although the rising cost of drinking means that increasing numbers are consuming alcohol at home alone. Researchers found that rising alcohol prices and louder music are making pubs less accessible for older men.
Men participating in the study reported that it is now less accessible to ‘nurse a pint’ and you are more obliged to purchase multiple drinks.
The study highlighted how large pub chains contribute to the problem as they often have a bit turnover of staff, who might not know their regulars on a first name basis.
The project aims to encourage men into pubs and into interacting with other people.
The research shows that men’s reasons for going to the pub were much broader than just drinking alcohol. It found that they wanted to interact with other people, get out of the house, and break their daily routine.
The evidence found by the researchers at the University shows that older men who live alone are more likely to be lonely than their female counterparts and to have less contact with family and friends, exacerbating feelings of loneliness.
“Loneliness is on the rise”
Age UK warns that demographic change in the coming years will see many older men living alone. This number is set to rise by 65% by the time we reach 2030. This will increase their risks of becoming lonely.
Dr Paul Willis, who led the research said that “as the UK population ages, the number of older people at risk of social isolation is on the rise. This can have detrimental effects on physical and mental health for older adults. Evidence for what works in reducing loneliness and social isolation among older people is limited, especially for men.
“This is why we turned our focus on the role of pubs and their potential to reduce loneliness. The findings have helped us to develop beermats which will be distributed across the city to promote conversation and face to face interactions which we know are so vital to combat feelings of isolation.”
Ben Davies, Manager of The Eldon House, said that “I see older men in here quite a lot. The scheme is a great idea to encourage them to chat to other people. I hope that anyone, man or woman, feels that they are welcome here.”
Burt Moore, 83, is a regular at The Eldon House. “I lost my wife 4 years ago and it has been tough. Sometimes it is hard, being on your own. I like the sound of these beermats and I will be giving the games on them a go.”
The beermats launched at The Eldon House this week and will be rolled out across the city.
If you have been affected by loneliness and would like support please contact Age UK Bristol on 0117 929 7537