How to combat loneliness when you get older…

We know that loneliness is harmful to health. The Campaign to End Loneliness, a UK based campaign group has highlighted that lacking social connections is a comparable risk factor for early death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Loneliness is worse for us than well-known risk factors such as obesity and physical inactivity increasing the likelihood of mortality by 26%.

According to Age UK half of people aged 75 and over live alone, and over 1 million people over 65 admit to always or often feeling lonely. Nearly half of over 65’s also say that television or pets are their main form of company.

Unfortunately, it seems that this is a growing problem in the UK, especially since we have an ageing population. Last year it was reported that volunteers at The Silver Line helpline received more than 500,000 calls from lonely and isolated older people – a record total for the service. They also reported that 53% of their callers said they had no one else to talk to.

The good news though is there are plenty of ways for older people to prevent loneliness and we thought we’d run through a few of our recommendations.

Start volunteering: In a recent blogs we talked about some of the fantastic benefits of volunteering. We highlighted a survey by YouGov on behalf of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations with over 10,000 people that found that 68% said volunteering helped them feel less isolated and 89% said they meet new people through volunteering. If you want to start mixing with more people and also giving something back to your community than volunteering can be a great way to do this.

Join a local group / class / activity club: Getting out and meeting people is key to combating loneliness. If you like keeping fit why not check out your local gym or find out if there are any local exercise classes that might appeal. Or if you like doing a particular activity such as painting or singing, find out if there is a local group you can join. If there isn’t one perhaps you could consider starting a group. With Facebook it’s easy to do this and most places have a Facebook community page for people that live in the area. Whatever the activity just find something that appeals to you and go along to meet other like-minded people. Find out what activities and groups your local Age UK runs:

Age UKs are a doorway to a huge variety of social events, groups for older people and local leisure activities

Host a coffee morning: Cancer charity Macmillan runs an annual coffee morning event where people across the UK are asked to host their own coffee mornings at home, work or in the community, collecting donations for drinks and edible treats which are all given to Macmillan Cancer Support. This is a great idea not only for raising money but to get to know people in your local area. Why not run your own coffee morning for neighbours in your street or friends that live close by and raise funds to support a local charity?

Join the University of the Third Age: U3A (University of the Third Age) is a UK movement of retired and semi-retired people who come together to continue their educational, social and creative interests in a friendly and informal environment. There are 1043 local U3As across the UK with over 425,000 members taking part in a whole host of activities and events. The U3As are run by volunteers and people have the chance to do, play or learn something. Don’t worry there are no exams! It’s just a great opportunity to meet people and make new friends. You could even become a volunteer yourself!

Get connected: One of the best ways to keep in touch with family and friends is to use a personal computer or tablet. You can share emails and photos to stay up to date with what people are doing, plus do video chats using Skype or Facetime. If the weather is not great or you find yourself house bound for a while this can be a real lifeline. Being online is also great for keeping up with what is happening in your community, as well as researching things to do and see. Remember if you aren’t so good with technology then there are usually training courses held for older people in libraries and community centres. Another great way to meet some new people!

Move to a retirement community: When people get older they often want to move to a more age-appropriate home. Moving to a specialist retirement development can therefore suit a lot of people. One of the benefits is there are other residents of similar ages with which people can socialise with if they wish. For single people especially this is often really appreciated. Our developments have communal areas, including gardens and lounges where people can have a natter over a cup of tea or coffee.

Many also organise activities and events, as well as outings to local attractions and restaurants. So for those that want to live independently but with the added bonus of having a community of people around them, moving to a retirement community can be a great way to avoid feeling lonely in later life.

Take a coach trip: There are often local coach companies that organise trips to all sorts of places from trips to London for the Chelsea Flower Show or Blackpool for the illuminations to travelling abroad to visit a Christmas market or have a few days in the sun.  Why not find out if there are any trips organised where you live? Coach trips are a good way to meet people, as well as visit some amazing places cost-effectively as part of a group.

There are plenty of other ways to keep busy when you are older and prevent yourself becoming lonely. It just takes a bit of imagination, effort and determination to get involved in something new!