Loneliness: how to help yourself and others

10 January, 2020

Patrick Stannah, MD at Stannah investigates tough subject that is affecting Great Britain.

According to Age UK, more than three million people in England over the age of 65 live alone. The sad truth is, that an estimated 300,000 older people go for a whole month without having a conversation or social contact with their family members or friends. It can be difficult to know how to help someone who may be struggling with loneliness. To help, here are 7 ideas you can suggest to a loved one, or take on board yourself, on how to deal with loneliness in later life.

Get outside

As we age, getting out and about everyday can become trickier. But ultimately, you are more likely to bump into people and make conversation if you go outside. Whether it’s popping to the shops and having a chat with the cashier, or simply having a stroll around the front garden and chatting to the neighbour, getting out and about will increase the chances of socialising.

We love pets

Studies show that owning a pet can greatly boost your mental and physical health and overcome loneliness. The companionship of a cat or dog, for example, is like no other, no matter the size or breed! If able to do so, why not invest in a four-legged friend who will provide unconditional love and affection?

Particularly with a dog, not only will they provide entertainment and a feeling of security at home, but they'll get you out and about helping you stay active too. Dog walking is a surprisingly great way to meet people. If you’re unsure about the commitment of getting a pooch of your own, try Borrow my Doggy to give you a taster as and when works for you.

Get online

Social media can seem daunting, but there are countless benefits to getting online. Re-connecting with old friends can be so rewarding in later life – and platforms like Facebook mean it’s never been easier. Skype and FaceTime allow you to see them and catch up through a click of a button, which is great news if you live far away from your favourite people.

Embracing local groups

Get involved with activities in the local community. From a rambling society to a bridge club, there are groups for pretty much every interest, or you could even try something new. It’s a good way to meet new faces and ensure regular social gatherings. Ultimately, proactivity is key in later life to finding and developing friendships that last.

Lending time

Charity shops are constantly looking for people to provide their time in support for a good cause. Retirement offers the perfect opportunity to do this, so why not visit a local charity shop to enquire if they need help? No doubt there will be some bargains to pick up too! Equally, churches can be a hub for communities where volunteers are relied upon. Whether it’s for cleaning, helping with flower arrangements or helping with the seasonal fete – it’s another welcoming place to socialise.

Something to look forward to

Why not organise a fun day out or trip away with a friend or with loved ones, to ensure you're getting some quality time together? It can be hard to pin down family and friends when everyone is busy but booking a lovely occasion in advance means you’ll have an event to look forward to. You could always set a tradition even if it's something small and regular like a coffee once a week.

Travel is also an exciting moment to look forward to, perhaps an annual staycation? There are plenty of Coach trips to enjoy a day out to the seaside or to Christmas markets for example, so why not make the most of these hassle-free opportunities? You never know who you'll end up meeting, and what it might lead to. If you are feeling exotic, many cruises also cater to single travellers, so there is no need to feel nervous, as you’re all in the same boat (literally).

Reach out

If you struggle with mobility and find feelings of loneliness are affecting your mental health, there are helplines out there, such as Age UK’s befriending service, or The Silver Line both of which provide a friendly voice at the end of the phone to chat to. There’s also no shame in opening up to friends or family that you are feeling socially isolated. Once you make these feelings known, it will be much easier for people around you to help. As author Oscar Wilde said; “Ultimately the bond of all companionship, whether in marriage or in friendship, is conversation”.

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