Posted: Friday 1st December 2017
Over nine million people in the UK – more than the population of London – report they are always or often lonely (source: British Red Cross)
Loneliness doesn’t just affect older people. Many other groups in society, from young mums to those with health or mobility issues, experience feelings of loneliness and social isolation.
Looking in on a neighbour, visiting an elderly relative or making that call or visit we've been promising to a friend we haven't seen in a long time can make all the difference to someone who is feeling lonely.
If you’ve got a couple of hours to spare but don’t know where to start find a voluntary community organisation near you who needs a hand.
There are lots of activities and services to help you meet new people, develop new skills and spend time with others. For more information call HertsHelp on 0300 123 4044 or take a look at the new Hertfordshire Directory
While anyone of any age can feel lonely, as we get older we are more at risk of it contributing to ill health.
As the weather grows colder, many older people start to feel isolated and lonely.
We’ve put together these tips to show how everyone can help prevent an older person feeling lonely and falling ill this winter.
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.
- Community Network is looking for volunteers to run one-hour phone chat groups.
- Contact the Elderly holds monthly Sunday afternoon tea parties for over-75s and needs volunteer drivers and hosts.
- 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 and 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.
Watch for signs of winter illness
Older people are particularly vulnerable during the winter as cold weather increases their risk of illnesses such as colds, coughs, flu, heart attacks, strokes, breathing problems and hypothermia (a dangerous fall in body temperature).
Check if they've had a free flu jab and, if not, offer to make an appointment at the GP surgery.
Look out for signs of serious illness, such as drowsiness, slurred speech and the person not complaining of feeling cold even in a bitterly cold room.
If you're worried, ask if there's a relative or close friend you can phone, or call the doctor or NHS 111. You could also contact your local council or ring the Age UK helpline on Freephone 0800 009 966.
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.
You can also download Independent Age’s guide on How to stay connected in older age
Read about how volunteering is good for your health.