Column 11th January 2017

I chair the Cross Party Group on Arts and Health in the Welsh Assembly. We’re exploring the benefits of social prescriptions. At the moment that’s things like exercise referral classes in your local leisure centre for people recovering from back and knee operations. These “prescriptions” extend the boundaries of traditional general practice in the health sector, and strengthen links between primary care and the voluntary sector because they mean health professionals can refer people to non-clinical services. What’s the link with the Arts? The positive therapeutic advantages of mediums such as arts and music in combatting loneliness and isolation offers a great alternative approach for the elderly in particular.

It’s difficult to imagine the isolation felt by those forced to stay at home for days, weeks, even months. Just imagine how awful it must feel to be unable to go out, to have no-one to talk to, to constantly be alone. This is the unfortunate reality for many older members of our society with thousands lonely and cut off from society, especially those over the age of 75. The joy and stimulation of meeting others as well as the chance to do something different from sitting at home, can provide a huge boost to many isolated and older people.

Thanks to befriending services and voluntary organisations, vital support is offered to those in isolation. Pembrokeshire’s Solva Care is one outstanding example. Hailed as the first of its kind in the UK, the community-led project brings together volunteers to deliver a wide range of support services to older people and those in need of care; helping people stay in their own homes, to maintain independence and to remain part of the community. Volunteers aim to help older people get out more, to assist with chores, they offer invaluable support to carers and visit those who are spending too much time on their own.

We must work to ensure that resources are available to help older people deal with the challenges and opportunities they face, whilst improving life quality beyond the traditional health and social care agenda. That’s why I also spoke about this in the Assembly earlier this week.