As an Individual
Loneliness is recognised as a condition that can significantly impact on a person’s physical and emotional wellbeing, in fact according to the Campaign to End Loneliness, it “increases the likelihood of mortality by 26%.” This is comparable to risk factors such as obesity and cigarette smoking and can also have a recognised effect on mental health, with loneliness and a lack of social interaction putting individuals at “greater risk of cognitive decline and dementia” as well as an increased rate of depression and suicide in older age.
Preventing loneliness at any age is therefore important for our long-term health and wellbeing, but especially amongst the elderly. While loneliness is often more recognised in people who live alone, there are plenty of people who have a very active social life and interact regularly with others, even when they do live on their own. While it can be harder for people who are less outgoing to develop links and new friendships, it’s important to persevere and step outside of your comfort zone if possible, as you never know what you might discover and who you might meet.
Stay in Touch with Older Family & Friends
Staying in touch with older family and friends is a straightforward and effective way to prevent loneliness and will benefit everyone in the relationship. Whether they are family or good friends you know you’ll have something in common that you can chat about and they’ll no doubt love hearing from you and catching up. It could be a phone call, video chat or even a good old-fashioned letter, but however you do it, keeping in touch with older people can make a huge difference to their day.
Intergenerational relationships have been proven to be highly beneficial for everyone involved as we can all learn a lot from people with different life experiences than our own, so instead of presuming you have nothing in common with someone outside of your peer group, get chatting and learn something new about them, and maybe yourself.
Volunteer in Your Local Community
Volunteering in the local community is a great way to meet new people and to ensure that you and others have the vital social interactions that most of us need. There are always local groups looking out for new people to join their organisations and regardless of your interests, there will likely be an opportunity around it. Whether you’d like to pop and visit older people in their homes once a week for a chat, develop essential life skills in communication, or even start a whole new chapter of your life, there are opportunities in every sector. The Government’s gov.uk website has links to a range of volunteering sources and Age UK also has information about their befriending service, as well as other ways you can become involved.
Visit A Senior Centre
Senior centres, sometimes known as day centres, are activity hubs in the community, often run by a particular charity or organisation, for instance, Age UK. They offer opportunities to meet like-minded people through activities such as quizzes, arts and crafts, singing and music, gentle exercise and day trips. While they are most likely frequented by older people who wish to become more active in the community, there are still opportunities to develop valuable intergenerational relationships due to the presence of volunteers, trained staff and carers. Senior centres are a great way to try out new pastimes that you may have never considered and because there is such a wide range of people there, you’re bound to meet someone who has a similar mindset to you.
Avoiding Loneliness as You Age
Articles such as this can make it sound all too easy to avoid loneliness through getting out into the local community, but what if you were always content staying at home with your partner? Perhaps you were each other’s companions and social life and you never felt you needed many friendships in your life, so haven’t kept in touch with many people as the years have gone on. While this isn’t such an issue when you’re younger, you may find as you age that your small group of peers are either leaving the area to live with family or moving into full-time care, and suddenly your existing social circle has got smaller. If you’ve then suffered the devastation of losing your partner, you can find yourself alone and with no idea how to access the local community and no desire to even try.
You may have family yourself but perhaps they live across the country or even abroad, and while they’ve tried to encourage you to move closer to them you’ve never wanted to leave your beloved home. This is where loneliness can really hit but picking up the phone, while difficult, can often be the difference between remaining isolated or beginning to change your life. For instance, if you are struggling with depression due to grief and you don’t want to speak to your GP, calling the NHS 111 service can put you in touch with a professional who can assess your mental health. Alternatively, if you’re able to leave the house without support and you are feeling up to it, sharing a smile with someone next to you in a checkout queue or while you are waiting for a bus can often be all it takes to start a conversation, especially if the other person is feeling as lonely as you are.
There are many companionship and befriending services offered by charities and other organisations for people who would like to become less isolated. Age UK offer a befriending service that will see a volunteer come to your home and visit you at a mutually convenient time, where you can chat over a cuppa and enjoy each other’s company. They also offer a phone-based companionship service for people who are not within areas covered. MHA also offer a befriending service which can be taken up via phone, in person or online. Many other organisations will also offer a similar service and while you may be able to find someone locally who would visit you, it is worth going through official channels to set up visits with a befriender because the organisation will usually require the volunteer to undertake a DBS screening before they’re allowed to enter your home.
Knowing When to Get Help
Being lonely is often a catalyst to more serious complications such as a decline in your overall mental health. It is important to try and recognise when you think you may need professional medical intervention to deal with anxiety or depression brought on by loneliness and social isolation. Your first point of contact should be your GP surgery for an initial appointment with a doctor, however if you’re struggling to get through to them it is worth calling 111 and speaking to a professional who will be able to signpost you to appropriate services. If you have access to the internet, the NHS website also offers helpful advice about wo to contact, such as Independent Age and Friends of the Elderly.
Remaining active as you get older can be a great way of keeping some age-related frailties at bay, as well as meeting and spending time with like-minded people through physical activity. Whether you join a rambling group, visit the gym or just walk around the local park with a friend, keeping active will benefit both your physical and mental health and help to alleviate feelings of anxiety and depression in some cases. Most areas have regular activity groups listed locally but if you don’t have access to the internet it may be worth asking in the local library, community centre or even local college if they have a list of activity sessions that you may enjoy.
Preventing Loneliness with Helping Hands
Helping Hands have been preventing loneliness through care at home since 1989, meaning we are experts in knowing how loneliness can affect people and what we can do to alleviate it. Our amazing carers can come to your home on either a visiting or live-in basis and can support you in everything, whether you are looking for simple companionship or have highly complex care needs. Our private carers are experts with activities that you can do together or can accompany you to attend events in the community. You can be confident with Helping Hands because all of our carers are Disclosure and Barring Service screened before they are ever allowed to enter our customers’ homes and because we’re fully regulated by the Care Quality Commission and Care Inspectorate Wales you’ll discover our service is consistently of the highest standards.
If you would like to learn more about our elderly care services then please call our friendly customer care team seven days a week. Alternatively, you can contact us via our website and we’d be happy to call you back.
Page reviewed by Rebecca Bennett, Regional Clinical Lead on November 30, 2021