Millions of people experience loneliness, and it is particularly common as we get older.
Here is some advice about how to cope with loneliness and ways to combat it. Loneliness is a common issue for older people. Having no one to share the ups and downs of life, and also the good things, can make people feel very isolated. Social isolation has been shown to have a detrimental effect on health and well-being. Depression is linked to social isolation.
Lonely and isolated older people are also at risk of nutritional problems, because they may not feel like bothering to cook a healthy meal, or they may have difficulty getting to the shops. However, not everyone who lacks contact with others experiences difficulties. For some people, solitude is a way of life which temperamentally suits them, and they may not feel lonely, even if they have no visitors. Loneliness is common in carers. Other groups at risk of loneliness include older married women, older people who live with married children, those living in sheltered housing or residential care and older people who emigrated from other countries (especially those who do not speak the language well).
Loneliness seems to be less prevalent in rural areas, where a sense of community still remains, than it is in more densely populated urban areas. If you, or someone you know are feeling isolated and lonely there are things you can do to help cope with this.
Join a social group
One way to combat loneliness is through making links with people with shared experiences, values or interests. Think about something that interests you. This could be anything from walking to watching films. If you join a social group to do with something that genuinely interests you, you should find that you meet people who share your interests and get to do something you enjoy. You can find information about local groups, clubs or classes at your local library, in local newspapers or magazines, or on the internet.
Meet people online
For many people, the internet is a good way to connect with people and make friends. There are a huge number of forums, social networks and dating sites that can put you in touch with people you share interests with, including the Spring Chicken community: www.springchicken.co.uk or click here to join our Facebook community . Many long-lasting relationships start on the internet, including many where people only ever meet online. However, it’s important to use common sense when you visit the internet. You don’t always know who you’re talking to so you should think carefully about what information you want to share. It is a good idea to use well-known websites, and never share bank details or personal information with people you don’t know.
Consider becoming a pet owner
Pets make great companions, and it’s well known that owning a dog or cat for example, can bring great comfort and help ease stress. You can contact a pet charity, such as the RSPCA or Cats Protection to find out more about how to gain a new companion.
These schemes can be very helpful to people who are housebound. They can be contacted through the local Age UK group, local churches (in some areas the Methodist church has ‘live at home’ schemes), or community care schemes linked to the area office of the social services department.
Community activities for all ages
Just because a person is older doesn’t mean they will always want to socialise with other people the same age. Groups you can join with people of all ages are:
- Adult education classes, such as painting or creative writing. This is a good way to meet like-minded people. Acquiring new skills also helps you to improve your confidence, making socialising a more enjoyable experience.
- Join a book club.
- Get involved in community action (such as becoming a member of Good Neighbour schemes, which visit housebound people), local history groups, or sporting activities (like bowling).
- Become a member of your local church.
- Join your local amateur dramatics society.
- Take part in locally organised outings, either to the countryside or to the theatre or cinema.
Details of local community activities can be obtained from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, from the local library, or your social services area office.
Seek support from specialist groups
Certain specialist groups may be of assistance at times of loss, either through bereavement, retirement, or illness.
Cruse: offers counselling and support after bereavement. Local groups, established around the country, offer a drop-in centre, a telephone advisory line, literature, and individual visits by trained counsellors.
Housing provision and loneliness
Suitable housing can play a significant part in alleviating loneliness. There is a range of provisions which can help, such as central alarm systems, contact with a warden, well-designed resident-friendly buildings, and care and repair schemes.