RETIRED farmers are being targeted by health professionals under a scheme aimed at staving off depression and Alzheimers amongst the agricultural community.

The farmers union has teamed up with the NHS and Alzheimer Scotland to set up a special group for retired farm workers which is aimed at keeping them active and out in the community.

Farmers are prone to suffer from depression and degenerative brain conditions such as Alzheimers as they often live in remote homes which can lead to long periods of isolation.

Now NFU Scotland are pioneering a new project in Dumfries and Galloway which provides opportunities for retired farm workers to get together for refreshments.

Dementia Friendly Community Worker Jill Rennie, who established the group, said: “Agriculture is a huge part of the region. My role is to engage with people living with dementia and their families, and that includes the farming community.

“I had noticed that when a farmer or farm worker retires they can become isolated and lonely.

“They no longer go to the mart and may not have any other opportunities to meet other farmers socially.

“I began to wonder if a retired farming social group could be set up to include all people who have worked in agriculture including people with dementia which resulted in the launch of the retired farming group as a pilot initially. “

The project is also being supported by the Health and Wellbeing in the Farming Community project.

It is a joint approach between NFU Scotland and Health and Social Care units in the region run by NHS and the local authority.

It comes as charities warn that tens of thousands of older Scots may be living with depression but there is no targeted support for “one of the greatest public health challenges of our time.”

According to the Mental Health Foundation Scotland (MHFS), Scotland’s wide-ranging mental health strategy displays a “disappointing” lack of action for older people,

It has warned the Scottish Government that around 120,000 older Scots could be living with undiagnosed mental health conditions resulting from loneliness and isolation.

An estimated 60,000 over-65s will spend Christmas Day alone, an increase of 50 per cent on two years ago, while 80,000 say they feel especially lonely over the festive period.

One in four people in the age group experience depression when they feel lonely, with 16 per cent saying it leads to anxiety, according to a MHFS survey conducted in conjunction with Age Scotland.

To try and combat the feeling of isolation felt amongst the elderly farming community the groundbreaking scheme was launched and the first meeting was held in Castle Douglas last month.

It was deemed a huge success and the body is now looking to build on that and has made a wider call for retired farmers and farm workers in Dumfries and Galloway to come along to the next meeting.

If the scheme is successful it could be rolled out to other major agricultural areas in Scotland.

Teresa Dougall, NFU Scotland’s Regional Manager for Dumfries and Galloway, attended the first meeting and said: “It was fantastic to see this group of retired farmers, who have spent a lifetime in the industry, come together for a cuppa, some cake and a chat.

“Despite not knowing each other, the discussion flowed – from how they farmed to how people now farm and their lives then and now.”

HeraldScotland:

COMMENT: A busy working life makes it difficult for many to adapt to retirement

By Rog Wood

FARMERS and farm workers can find it difficult to adjust to retirement after a busy life on the farm and hectically trying to get through weather-dependent, seasonal workloads such as lambing, making hay or harvest.

Many are used to working long hours alone and were so preoccupied with farming during their working lives that they never found the time to take up hobbies or social interests off the farm.

While those who retire to live in our small villages and hamlets may enjoy being part of a tightknit, caring community, many with busy, non-farming neighbours may have little in common and struggle to “connect”.

Then there are those living in more remote, difficult-to-access rural locations where there is almost an inevitability of becoming isolated and lonely.

One of the problems that retired farmers experience is that those still actively involved in the industry increasingly have less in common and talk to them differently. A good example is the recent introduction of claiming subsidies on-line through the Scottish Government’s new, flawed IT system that has caused many problems for farmers.

Those who have been retired for a few years know little about the difficulties and as a result can’t get involved in the heated debates they have aroused.

Similarly, if you are not actively involved in buying inputs such as feed and fertiliser you are less likely to be aware of sudden spikes or falls in prices.

That growing gulf between retired farmers and those still actively farming discourages many from attending marts and socialising.

The pilot scheme being run in Dumfries and Galloway to provide opportunities for those who have spent their life in farming to come together for a chat, some cake and a cuppa is a laudable idea, but I suspect it will struggle to succeed in any meaningful way.

I believe that far too many of our older farmers and farm workers are too proud to be seen at such social events because they will be fearful of what they perceive as the “stigma” that may come with it.

Rog Wood is Farming Correspondent for The Herald