This December, more than one million elderly people will experience loneliness and isolation according to figures by Age UK. As part of our Christmas campaign aimed at raising awareness of seasonal loneliness, Loughborough academic Dr. Catherine Armstrong has suggested one solution from the tiny island of Hawaii that could make a big difference to someone.
With a more mobile workforce, the number of elderly with little contact with close family is increasing. We can refer to this as the 'modern giant' of chronic loneliness as malign in its effects as the five giants confronted by William Beveridge in his report published in 1942.
Loneliness among people of all ages is firmly connected to depression, and this is even more marked among the older population. According to a 2004 study, depressive symptoms were present in 20% of older adults studied. Charities working with lonely older people and friends and neighbors concerned about individuals they know need ideas to try to alleviate this problem.
It is good to talk
The voices and memories of older people should be valued and shared with the rest of society. Talking across the generations allow older people to share experiences and wisdom, and to discover similarities and differences across the generations are especially rewarding.
Talking about their memories enhances the wellbeing of the older and younger people, and the older population are seen in asset-based not problem-based terms: their wisdom and shared experience offer genuine insight to the young people and the wider community.
It is based on the concept of 'kupuna' (cue-poona) taken from the indigenous Hawaiian culture. On the surface level, the English translation of kupuna is 'grandparent,' but the real meaning is so much broader than that.
A kupuna is everyone's grandparent, an honored ancestor who carries with them a great deal of cultural knowledge. Without them, much of the indigenous Hawaiian identity would be lost. In the UK, we have much to learn from this approach. Perhaps we have moved to fast towards a world that values the new and the young.
Listening to the voices of the older generation allows us to understand where we have come from and gives a new perspective on the contemporary world. A crucial role of the kupuna within the family kinship group is to share their knowledge with younger people by 'talking story.'
But the kupuna model is not perfect some younger native Hawaiians in the 21st century criticize the reticence of their kupuna who learned to suppress their 'talk stories' as white American culture dominated. The younger generation wants these 'talk stories' to reflect political resistance.