Loneliness in older people

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Hundreds of thousands of elderly people are lonely and cut off from society in this country, especially those over the age of 75.

According to Age UK, more than 2 million people in England over the age of 75 live alone, and more than a million older people say they go for over a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour or family member. On average, 225,000 older people often go a whole week without speaking to anyone.

There are lots of ways you can do your bit to help lonely or socially isolated elderly people in your community. The person you're helping will reap health benefits, and you'll find you will as well.

Start a conversation

It's not always easy to know who or how to help. A good start is simply to stop and talk to an elderly neighbour if you pass them on the street.

If you think an older person may have trouble hearing or has memory problems, make sure to speak clearly (but don't shout!).

Pause between sentences and questions to give them chance to digest the information. And allow a little extra time for them to respond – don't hurry them.

Offer practical help

Do you know an older person who lives alone, rarely leaves the house, has recently suffered a bereavement, is in poor health, disabled, has sight or hearing loss, or doesn't seem to have close family living nearby?

Ask them if they need any help with tasks such as shopping, posting letters, picking up prescriptions and medicines, or dog-walking.

Offer to accompany them or give them a lift to activities or doctors' and hospital appointments, the library, hairdressers or faith services.

Share your time

Volunteer for organisations that support older people. These often offer "befriending" schemes for isolated elderly people, and rely on volunteers for one-to-one contact as a telephone "buddy", visitor or driver, or hosting social events for groups.

Your contribution could be as simple as a weekly telephone call to an isolated older person, or extend to regular home visits for a chat and to help with shopping and so on, driving an elderly person to a social event, or even hosting coffee mornings for groups of elderly people.

You can find more information on befriending an older person from these organisations:

  • Age UK has a network of local Age UK groups across the country that have opportunities for you to become either an Active Buddy, who helps someone become more physically active, a Befriender, who visits someone who lives alone, or a day centre helper.

  • Contact the Elderly holds monthly Sunday afternoon tea parties for over-75s and needs volunteer drivers and hosts.

  • Friends of the Elderly needs volunteers to help with its day centres, telephone befriending groups and coffee mornings in sheltered housing schemes, and get involved in its Be a Friend campaign.

  • Independent Age will match you to an older person who you can then drop in on regularly for a coffee and a chat.

  • Royal Voluntary Service wants volunteers who can help an older person with little tasks, such as doing their shopping and taking their dog for a walk, or delivering meals.

  • The Silver Line needs people to help man this new helpline for older people.

Help with household tasks

Getting older can make it hard to tackle even simple jobs around the house.

Older people often really appreciate any offer of help with basic chores such as taking out the rubbish, changing light bulbs, fastening sash windows, clearing snow off the path, putting up pictures, and so on.

Share a meal

Older, isolated people often need a hand cooking for themselves, so why not take round an extra plate of hot home-cooked food, or a frozen portion they can heat up or microwave?

As well as being practical, it's a nice way to share your time with a neighbour.

Try to provide the meal in a container that you don't need back – it's hard work for both of you to keep track of serving bowls.

Here are some quick and easy recipes for delicious winter-warming meals.

The Casserole Club is a project that connects people who like to cook and are happy to share an extra portion of a delicious home-cooked meal with older neighbours living close by who could really benefit from a hot, cooked meal.

Useful resources

If you suspect your parents are lonely, read the When They Get Older website's loneliness guide.

Mind's guide on how to cope with loneliness has advice on how to help someone you know who's lonely.

Read about how volunteering is good for your health.

Get more ideas for how to volunteer in your area.

*Font NHS

Daniela Luquini