Local pensioners inspire campaign to help elderly

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A local pensioners’ group has helped spark a national campaign to prevent people from dying at home alone this Christmas.

Charity Dying Matters, which was set-up to challenge attitudes to bereavement, launched the Home Alone campaign yesterday to encourage people to support their vulnerable neighbours through the Christmas period and the severe winter weather.

The campaign was inspired by the actions of Lewisham Pensioners’ Forum. Forum vice chair Bridgit Sam says the campaign grew out of a packed-out meeting held last month in the borough, to discuss “the importance of talking about death, dying and bereavenment.”

“Every year, at around this time, we hear terrible stories, not just about older people dying alone, but even being left unnoticed for weeks after they’ve died. With help from Dying Matters we decided to do something about it and in Lewisham we now look out for each other more,” she added.

The local group has distributed leaflets and posters in the borough, and set up an information stall last Friday morning at  Lewisham shopping centre.

Doris Smith, Chair of Lewisham Pensioner’s Forum, said that despite initial reluctance, people she had spoken to in the community welcomed more openness about the difficult issues surrounding death and bereavement, particularly for the lonely at this vulnerable time of year.

“Once people hear others talking about these matters, they start to open up.

“You don’t normally think about it as an ordinary person without a lot of wealth to worry about, but it’s about more than that. It’s about having a say in how you end your days. If you start to talk about it, then you overcome the fear of it.”

Hilary Fisher, Director of Dying Matters, said: “Look out for a neighbour, family member or friend who is on their own this Christmas. It could make all the difference.”

Bad weather leads to an average 25,000 extra deaths in winter, 90 per cent of which are over-65s.

The charity estimates that one in ten older people will spend Christmas alone.

As well as keeping neighbours safe, warm and fed, the Christmas campaign also encourages people to help vulnerable neighbours plan for a good death, by being prepared to contact relatives, or act on dying wishes.

The  Forum, which started in 1986, will continue with the campaign in the New Year, with three more Friday morning stalls in the centre in January.

To learn more about Dying Matters’ campaign to ensure nobody dies at home alone this Christmas, visit their website.

For more on the work and activities of the Lewisham Pensioners’ Forum, visit their website.

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