Isolation is a massive issue facing the elderly in the UK. As families grow apart and the world becomes a smaller place, many people find that they are no longer surrounded by the people they know and love.
As a result mental and physical health declines, and loneliness takes over, becoming a growing problem.
Loneliness has complex causes – but thankfully there is a range of solutions available to combat it. Primarily, reducing loneliness means reducing isolation – as indicated by a study conducted by Age UK. Making and keeping friends was also found to be key.
So how can you prevent loneliness and combat isolation with just a few simple steps?
One of the main factors isolating many older people is lack of transport. Some have never learned to drive – others are no longer able to do so for medical or financial reasons.
Public transport can be difficult to navigate – and cutbacks have reduced the number of stops available for buses, trains and trams, making it harder for those without their own transport to get around. Yet transport is a key factor required to maintain freedom and independence.
Fortunately transportation services specialising in elderly care are now commonplace in the UK. Some are run with charitable or government funding – others by taxi companies.
These services are normally organised trips or regular bus services to key locations, but others can take you to a specific place of your choosing.
Car share schemes are becoming popular alongside this – making use of volunteers in the local area who can also provide companionship and help run errands.
The first step to combatting isolation is organising transport – as this enables you to get from A to B and out into the community and beyond. You don’t have to socialise every time – it could be for something as simple as going shopping, or swimming.
Whatever your destination or activity, having a reliable form of transport is a key aspect of maintaining positive wellbeing in older age.
Most local areas have groups and clubs specifically designed to bring people together. Some are for elderly people only – whilst others are simply activity clubs, sports organisations or classes.
Consider what you’d like to get out of a club, and which type of people you’d like to meet. You may prefer to take part in your hobby with others who share your interest – like an art class or dance group.
Some organisations run coffee mornings, craft clubs, choirs and plays, or arrange day trips and holidays for local people at risk of isolation. These are great for individuals who like variety and are keen to meet people their own age to have fun and get out and about.
Charitable organisations such as Age UK often have local hubs, where you can drop in or make an appointment to ask for advice and support. They’ll be able to provide details of clubs and groups you can join in your area, and may also be able to assist with psychological barriers to making friends and socialising, such as social anxiety.
Some charitable organisations actually hold events, activity groups and regular meet-ups themselves – and arrange days out and holidays for local elderly people.
Keeping active has multiple benefits for elderly people – and the advantages are not purely physical. Keeping fit has been shown to have a positive effect on mental wellbeing – especially as part of a group.
There are plenty of exercise groups both specifically for the elderly and for a mixture of abilities and ages. What you choose to do depends on your preferences – but most sports clubs are social and incorporate activities outside of the regular meet-ups too. I
f you prefer to enjoy the outdoors why not join a walking or cycling club? Gyms and health clubs are also great places to meet people and train alone or together with others.
Volunteering is a fantastic way to meet new people – and experience something different every day. In stark contrast to the four walls of your own home, it gives those who participate a sense of wellbeing and worth. Do-it.org is one of the UK’s largest volunteering websites – and here you’ll find plenty of opportunities in your local area to suit your interests, experience and skillset.
Often volunteering positions don’t require any prior qualifications. If you prefer to contact local and national charities directly you can find phone numbers or addresses and ask about vacancies and current campaigns in your area.
When you are in need of elderly care, it can feel as though you are placing a burden on family and friends.
Often younger generations are busy, and they don’t have time to visit often. However if you are feeling lonely, it’s important to broach the subject with family and friends.
It’s likely that they aren’t aware of how you are feeling, and would like to help. Perhaps you can schedule in an hour or two each week to catch up, or they may feel welcome to visit more often. Even a regular phone call, a card or a letter can reduce feelings of isolation.
Some areas have buddy schemes designed to offer companionship to those who are most at risk of suffering from loneliness.
These are often organised by the local authority or charity groups, employing people of all ages who want to spend some time with someone new. Often you’ll be matched with someone with similar interests and a compatible personality.
Some buddies take on a more caring role and also provide transport and help with simple household errands. You can find information and ask about companionship services in your area by visiting or calling your local Citizens Advice Bureau or Age UK centre.
Need information and support regarding elderly care? Concerned about your health and wellbeing, or that of a friend or relative? Take a look through our extensive range of resources, articles and guides, designed to help individuals requiring elderly care and their families.