Loneliness can increase during the winter months, when older people find it harder to get out and about.
Loneliness affects well over a million people aged over 65 in the normal course of events, but it is increasingly clear that the pandemic has caused many, many more older people to become lonely.
This is for a number of reasons, including: regular routines, opportunities to socialise and get out of the house have been halted by lockdowns; in some cases usually affective coping strategies and social networks have been totally disrupted, leaving them high and dry; and because of the need to socially distance and at times to shield.
Loneliness can affect anyone and research shows it can be extremely harmful to people’s health. It is associated with depression, sleep problems, impaired cognitive health, heightened vascular resistance, hypertension, psychological stress and mental health problems.
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 do not shout!).
Pause between sentences and questions to give them chance to digest the information. And allow a little extra time for them to respond – do not 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 does not 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.
- 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.