We were saddened to hear of the death this week of Alice-Herz Sommer – the renowned concert pianist and, at 110, believed to have been the world’s oldest Holocaust survivor. Alice’s spirit was inspirational and irresistible. She was the subject of countless TV programmes, one of which took home the “winner of winners” award at our 2012 Older People in the Media Awards.
Alice spent two years in Theresienstadt concentration camp, where nearly 35,000 prisoners died. Alice always maintained a love of life and a passion for music, which sustained her in the camp. And despite losing most of her family in the Holocaust, she always stayed resolutely optimistic. In an interview in 2006 with the Guardian, asked if she ever thought about why she survived, she replied, “I am looking for the nice things in life. I know about the bad things, but I only look for the good things. The world is wonderful, it’s full of beauty and full of miracles. Our brain, the memory, how does it work? Not to speak of art and music...It is a miracle.”
On a different note, while we were concerned to hear that around 70% of older men living alone in Britain suffer from loneliness, we were heartened to learn of steps taken by the Royal Voluntary Service to try and combat this. The organisation has teamed up with some of Britain’s most successful rugby clubs who are asking their supporters to help out by driving pensioners to games or just chatting with them in the bar.
Any of us can be affected by loneliness but older people are especially vulnerable and older men in particular experience greater difficulties in maintaining relationships with friends. Given that loneliness has a serious impact on physical, as well as mental health, (it’s as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and twice as bad as obesity), it’s great to see the provision of social activities targeted at, or which involve, older men.
Similarly, Gateshead’s HenPower project – a project set up by the charity Equal Arts, in which dozens of chickens have been reared and introduced to people at housing schemes, to give older people a sense of purpose – was targeted at older men in particular, offering them a hands-on role in the rearing of the birds at the homes where they live.
The project has been captured beautifully by photographer Mark Henderson, and his images, “that both challenge and counteract some of the misconceptions that exist around older people,” are just about to go on show in an exhibition in the Bewicks Gallery at Gateshead Civic Centre