Weekly chats with lonely people with Alzheimer's gives Northamptonshire dad a whole new perspective
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When Dan Bowes signed up to a scheme to chat to people with Alzheimer's disease to combat loneliness during the coronavirus lockdown, he had no idea how powerful a simple phone call could be.
After two months, the father-of-two from Earls Barton has developed great friendships with the people he talks to every week with both parties benefitting.
"It's made me realise even with family I don't see as much, it's easy to pick up the phone and have a 20-minute conversation with them especially people you don't speak to that often or are feeling lonely," he said.
"It does help them more than I imagined it would do when I signed up to the programme so it's really nice to support people but the more and more conversations you have, the more and more you get to know and help them.
"I would recommend it to everyone even it's not through a scheme or charity, most people know someone who might be experiencing loneliness so I really would encourage people to just pick up the phone."
Research by Santander UK has found the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the UK’s loneliness problem, with a quarter of British adults saying lockdown has made them realise that they have 'no real friends'.
To help those in need of a friendly chat, the bank's employees are signing up as volunteers to make social phone calls to lonely and vulnerable people through Age UK and Alzheimer’s Society.
Dan works at Santander's office in Milton Keynes and decided to get involved: "I felt a bit hopeless in other aspects so I thought getting involved in something like this would be a great way to support those who need support at this time.
"It's really nice I have two people I'm in regular contact with, both with different interests and at different stages of their life and with Alzheimer's.
"But it's nice to step away from the day job for a period of time and have conversations with people I wouldn't usually have conversations with."
Dan started out with just a name and a phone number for confidentiality reasons so everything else he knows about the people he speaks to has been gained through the weekly chats.
The marketing transformation lead used to be a rally driver so motorsport and cars have been a favourite topic of conversation.
"No two conversations are the same which I think is good, each conversation takes a different path," he said.
"The first few conversations, they were a bit closed and guarded as it's a bit different to get someone call you up.
"But now they seem to be waiting by the phone waiting for me to call and they look forward to a chat.
"I think obviously with lockdown and the climate we have been in, they have not been leaving the house so to get someone calling them is great and they seem to enjoy it."
Santander's study found one of the most common effects of loneliness is missing friends and family, and the over 55s have felt this more than other age groups.
Almost three-quarters of over 55s say they have struggled during the lockdown, while 38 per cent of adults have noticed a deterioration in their older or vulnerable relatives’ mental or physical wellbeing since the start of lockdown.
Although the lockdown restrictions are beginning to ease, Dan plans to keep going with his regular phone calls as their loneliness may not end.
"We all work hours and have other jobs and families but to give up, in my case an hour of a week, it's not much but it means a lot to people," he said.
"It gives me a sense of purpose and achievement whenever I do it."