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10 ways to help an elderly person who is lonely

Do you know someone who might need a bit of company? Here’s some ways to help them feel less lonely.

You might not be lonely, but someone you know very well could be.

A recent study by The Co-op and the British Red Cross showed over 9 million people in the UK across all adult ages – more than the population of London – are either always

or often lonely, and a poll earlier this year highlighted that 83% of us wouldn’t recognise all our neighbours in a police line-up and the majority of us have a stronger sense of belonging to our workplace (60%) than our neighbourhood (48%).

[Read more: 4 ways to guard against loneliness to protect your health">The Campaign to End Loneliness, there are greater ‘risk factors’ for loneliness in older age, such as retirement, bereavement, hearing or sight loss, decreased mobility and lower incomes.

More than half of over-75s live alone, according to the Office for National Statistics, with almost five million people saying their main form of company is the TV.

By 2030, the number of people aged over 60 will rise to 24%. In the next 20 years, the population of those aged over 80 will treble and those over 90 will double, according to the Campaign.

How can you future-proof against loneliness?

Whether you’re six or 66, everyone can feel lonely at some point. And the emotion can last for a day, or could be much longer term.
So here's some advice for feeling healthy and happy:

1. Think about yourself

Think about what you would like more of – maybe time with friends or family, if so invite them to visit. Often if you are lonely you think people do not want to visit. This is understandable, but often people will respond to an invitation and will come and spend quality time with you.

2. Look after yourself

If you can do something to improve your health, take small steps to eat well, take gentle exercise and keep active, all of these things can help you to relax more fully in your own company.

3. Share your skills and time with others

You can offer time or specific skills by helping out in your street, neighbourhood or with local organisations. You could volunteer with the Royal Voluntary Service, Sense or Independent Age who support older people.

4. Your community and neighbourhood

Find out what local activities are being planned and book them up: walks, singing groups, book clubs and bridge. For example, Contact the Elderly and the University of the Third Age have a wide range of local social groups and activities across the UK.

If you're not sure how to help someone who is lonely, here's some tips on how to support someone who is experiencing feelings of loneliness.

1. Show them you’re available

Keep in touch by phone, email or in person so they know someone is there for them when they need support. Don’t give up on them if they don’t call or visit you in return, but if they need time alone, try to respect that.

2. Offer to take them out

If it’s difficult for them to get out and about, you could volunteer to take them out, for example to a café or to visit a friend. There might even be a local charity who could help if you don’t have much spare time. Just don’t push them into anything, as it might seem daunting to them at first.

3. Ask how they’re feeling

By talking to them about how they’re feeling, without leading them into any particular issue, you might find out that something else is troubling them. Try not to make assumptions about why they are lonely – there are many reasons why someone might be feeling loneliness.

4. Enlist expert help

Some people might feel more comfortable talking about their feelings to a stranger or professional. If it seems appropriate, you could suggest they speak to their GP or call a charity helpline.

[Read more: Alone at Christmas? 10 ways to feel less lonely">Contact the Elderly, one third of people have noticed a lonely older person near them, while 66% believe loneliness is a problem in their town.

Worryingly, just under half of us don’t know how to help a lonely older person, so with that in mind here are 10 ways to alleviate loneliness this Christmas:

1. Sign up for Contact the Elderly’s tea parties

Once a month, the charity runs Sunday tea parties all across the nation. They are a great chance for older people to chat to people their age and the service is free.

2. Join a friendship centre…

Age UK organise opportunities to do a wide range of activities from rambling to pub lunches with similarly active older people.

3. … or an older person’s forum

Over 55s make up a fifth of the population and these forums are an opportunity to get involved in local campaigning to improve things for older people. They also throw in some social activities on the side!

4. Get in touch with your artistic side

Lots of local community centres offer art classes for older people and they are a great way to exercise some creativity.

5. Find your local gym…

Gyms provide specialised workouts to keep older people healthy and active and there is strong evidence that keeping fit fights off a whole host of potential health issues.

6. … or, if you prefer a more relaxed social experience, a lunch club

The Royal Voluntary Service runs 450 lunch clubs across the country that all deliver a cooked lunch and an opportunity to socialise.

7. Speak to The Silver Line

All calls to this helpline (0800 470 80 90) are free, and the specially trained team offer advice, links to things going on in your area, or just a friendly chat.

8. Give the University of the Third Age a go

U3A is a volunteer organisation that gives older people the chance to enrol on one of their 300 courses. The courses span from art, to languages, to history and it’s just like university, just without the exams.

9. Learn to love technology

As families become more spread around the country (and the globe), there has never been a better time to get hands on with tech. Skype, WhatsApp and FaceTime all allow you to stay in touch better and there are lots of courses available to help you get to grips with your computer or mobile.

10. Get to know your library

Not only is reading a way to keep the mind active, but many libraries put on activity days and theatre groups aimed to get older people involved in the local community.


5. Be dependable

Missing a visit or phone call may not seem important to you, but could be very disappointing for someone who doesn’t have much contact with others, so try to be reliable.

6. Help them discover new ways to stay in touch

There are a huge range of different ways to stay in touch these days, from social media to email and text messaging. If they don’t feel comfortable using computers, you could encourage them to join a course to learn how to use computers and the internet, which are run by most local councils.

7. Help them to try something new

If they have a particular interest, joining a group, such as a rambling club, reading group or dance class, could help them connect with like-minded people. If they show an interest in an activity, you could offer to go with them to the first session if they’re nervous about going alone.

8. Talk about practical barriers

Barriers such as not having a car, not having enough money or being a full-time carer could be preventing them from connecting with people or getting out and about. Talk to them about what these barriers may be and encourage them to speak to Independent Age on 0800 319 6789 for help overcoming them.

9. Ask other people for help

If you’re very busy or live far away, you don’t need to feel like you have to do everything yourself. See if anyone else, such as a friend, neighbour, relative or charity volunteer, can regularly call or visit the person who is lonely.

[Stuck in a rut and over 50? 5 ways to take a risk and change your life">Letter from Paris just days after she turned 60, she shares her own personal take on why it’s important to continue to take risks as a fabulous 50-something and suggests five ways you can change your life.

1. Do something that scares you

Generally speaking, if you can’t do it in high heels I’m not interested. But a while ago, I was persuaded into taking part in a charity fire walk. I had to give myself a serious pep talk beforehand but afterwards it gave me a whole new perspective on the nature of fear (and a huge sense of pride!).

Even if you are not the bungee jumping, sky-diving, abseiling type I think you should do something terrifying and do it for a good cause.

2. Think differently

Think of someone your age that inspires you and ask yourself what they would do in your situation. Think about it - what are you afraid will happen? Why shouldn’t you? If the answer is “I’m too old, or people will laugh at me, or what if I fail.” Stop for a moment and ask yourself one important question; “Am I making excuses because I’m afraid?” If so, then do something about it. 

3. Make time for yourself

The world isn’t going to stop if you take a break – in fact the world may seem much more manageable if you do. We don’t get brownie points for being martyrs.

4. Try something new

Try a class, a sport, a skill. No matter what you choose, keep learning - it’s what keeps us young.

5. Keep going

The easiest thing to do if you don’t seem to be getting anywhere is give up. “It’s not worth it”, “I’m not getting anywhere”, I’m telling you – it’s not. My first book was published a few days after I turned 60 and that didn’t happen overnight. The key is not giving up on your dreams. With enough hard work and determination, most things are possible no matter what age you are.

“Above all I think the biggest risk we could take is not taking risks at all,” she warns.

“I try to remember that it is better to regret the things we’ve done than to regret the things we never tried.” 

10. Host a Sunday lunch

The Big Lunch - an idea from The Eden Project made possible by The National Lottery – will be held this year on Sunday 3 June, aiming to beat last year’s record involvement of 9.3 million people across the UK. The annual event encourages people to get together with others in their neighbourhoods to share food and fun. Research conducted by The Eden Project last year found that 76% of people that joined a Big Lunch felt closer to their neighbours as a result, with 79%  socialising more with people in their community.

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