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Loneliness in older people

Research indicates that more than 2 million people in England over the age of 75 live alone. Older people are especially vulnerable to loneliness and social isolation – this guide gives practical tips to help you manage feelings of loneliness in later life, and other places you can go for support.

 

What is loneliness, and why might we experience it?

Loneliness is a feeling that most of us will experience at some point in our lives. Feelings of loneliness are personal, so the way we experience loneliness will be different for everyone.

One common description of loneliness is the feeling that our need for rewarding social contact and relationships is not met. But loneliness is not always the same as being alone. You may choose to live alone and live happily without much contact with other people, while others may find such seclusion difficult.

There are lots of reasons why we might feel lonelier and more isolated as we get older. Retirement and losing the social contact you had at work, bereavement, smaller social circles and illness are just some of the reasons we can experience loneliness.

If our social contact is limited for reasons beyond our control, such as the recent Coronavirus pandemic, this can come as a sudden shock and the feelings of loneliness can be quite intense.

Sadly, feeling lonely can also have a negative impact on your mental health, especially if these feelings have lasted a long time.

Whatever the circumstances, there are practical ways to deal with loneliness and get support.

 

Taking steps to combat loneliness

Loneliness increases with age, so it’s important to take steps to combat it. Most people who feel lonely want to increase the quality or quantity of contact with other people. If you are experiencing feelings of loneliness here are some things you could do to help.

 

Connect digitally

The internet and digital technology can be invaluable for staying in touch with family and friends, especially if they live far away. You can share emails and photos, have free video chats using services such as Skype, Zoom or FaceTime, and make new online friends or reconnect with old friends on social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

Using a computer, tablet (a handheld computer) or smartphone connected to the internet can also help with everyday tasks such as shopping, ordering prescriptions, and banking.

Libraries and community centres often hold training courses for older people to learn basic computer skills – as well as being a good place to meet and spend time with others.

The Age UK website has helpful information on making the most of the internet. Local Age UK branches also run computer classes to help older people learn more about using smartphones, tablets and computers.

There are also communities and web forums online that are free to join which allow people to chat with others who have similar experiences. Online communities include:

- Silversurfers
- Senior Chatters
- 50 Connect
- Buzz50
- Gransnet

 

Telephone befriending services

There are lots of charities that offer telephone befriending services. These can put you in touch with volunteer befrienders who can call at a time convenient to you for a friendly chat.

Some organisations will match people with a volunteer who has similar interests. Organisations include:

- Age UK
- Independent Age
- Mind
- The Silver Line

 

Get involved in local community activities

There are many social groups organised by older people for older people throughout the UK. These will vary depending on where you live, but may include activities such as walking groups, coffee mornings, book clubs, bridge groups, bingo, quiz nights and religious groups.

You may also have access to local branches of regional and national organisations that hold social events such as the Women’s Institute, Rotary and Re-engage.

The Silver Line Helpline (0800 470 8090) can let you know what’s available to you in your local area.

 

Get out and about, if you can

One advantage of being older is that public transport is better value. Local bus travel is free for older people in England. The age at which you can apply for your free bus pass depends on when you were born and where you live. Contact your local authority for more information on how to apply.

For longer distances train and coach travel can also be discounted too, especially if you book in advance online and use a Senior Railcard.

 

Adopt a pet

It won’t be for everyone, but being around animals has a lot of physical and emotional health benefits and can help with feelings of loneliness. The unconditional love and companionship they provide can be a great comfort when you’re feeling low.

If you are keen to get a pet, you should think carefully about which one best suits your lifestyle. Different types of pets require different levels of care, for example:

- A dog needs regular exercise
- Birds and small animals like rabbits and guinea pigs have to be cleaned out regularly
- Cats need little more than regular meals and affection

 

Volunteer

If you are still quite active and mobile, you might like to volunteer for a local charity. There are endless volunteering opportunities that appreciate the qualities and skills of older people.

Most high streets have charity shops and you may be able to help out for a few hours a week. You’ll be able to meet new people and keep busy, whilst helping others at the same time.

Other opportunities may include volunteering a local Citizens Advice centre, or helping at a local hospital or animal shelter. You can also search for opportunities in you local area:

- Volunteering England
- Royal Volunteering Service
- Volunteer Scotland
- Volunteering Wales

 

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