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Volunteering Valuable for Health and Wellbeing at All Ages

By Julie Breslin, Head of the Drink Wise, Age Well programme     

Volunteering is vital for tackling loneliness and improving health and wellbeing, and it's never too late to start volunteering for a project you care about.

According to a recent study by the Royal Voluntary Service and Prudential, almost half of 50 to 65 year-olds are interested in volunteering to form groups around their own interests in order to support people in their local community.

It’s a figure that would have made Jo Cox’s spirits soar, before the MP’s tragic death two years ago. Set up in memory of the murdered mother of two, the Jo Cox Foundation works to bring together individuals and organisations to help create a fairer, kinder and more tolereant world.

It’s certainly something that is needed, with a recent report from the Office of National Statistics showing that 5% of the population of England describe themselves as feeling lonely often or always. With those in poor health, or with conditions they describe as “limiting” saying they feel particulary vulnerable to loneliness.

Those who are single, or who have lost their partner are also more likely to feel lonely, all of which plays into the remit of Drink Wise, Age Well, a National Lottery funded programme to help people make healthier choices about alcohol as we age.

Drink Wise, Age Well

As we get older, it is fair to say that poor physical health becomes more likely and certainly the chances of having lost a loved one increases.

59% of Drink Wise, Age Well service users are late-onset drinkers. Drink Wise, Age Well operates in Glasgow, Sheffield, Devon, Cwm Taf University Health Board area and parts of Northern Ireland, and is at the sharp end of seeing the devastating effects that a life-long alcohol habit can have on someone aged 50 plus. But we also see the consequences of people who have struggled to cope with major life changes such as bereavement and turned to alcohol later in life to obliterate feelings of loss and loneliness.

In the UK’s largest ever study of drinking behaviour in the over 50s, conducted for us by the University of Bedfordshire in 2015, people who said they were drinking more now than in the past cited retirement (40%), bereavement (26%) and loss of sense of purpose (20%) as the main reasons.

The Drink Wise, Age Well programme is informed by this research and provides an integrated, community-based service around four key activities in the five areas where we work:

  • Delivering one-to-one support and group activities
  • Prevention and campaigning
  • Building resilience to alcohol misuse in individuals and communities
  • Training and workforce development to help carers, frontline staff and practitioners recognise and respond to problem drinking in the over 50s.

Volunteering is backbone of service

We are also hugely reliant on volunteers in our approach and with Volunteers Week happening on 1 – 7 June, wanted to take this opportunity to thank all those who have volunteered with us and appeal to more over 50s to come forward and help deliver the programme, to the benefit of their own health and wellbeing.

The Drink Wise, Age Well model is a perfect example of the power of volunteering, with many of our service users emerging from the recovery process with a passion to help others, and their “lived experience” making them uniquely qualified to support the over 50s.

Online help is available too

For those who do not live in any of the five areas where we operate, we also offer web chat via our website www.drinkwiseagewell.org.uk and have recently launched an e-learning module that would help anyone who works with, or supports the over 50s to start a conversation about someone’s drinking https://drinkwiseagewell.org.uk/e-learning/.

Though the internet is no substitute for human contact, it’s a really useful jumping off point to see what else is available.

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