In the chaos of the Coronavirus pandemic, people all over the world learned what it meant to be lonely. Struggling through long months with little to no social interaction, we all held our breath and waited for a return to normal. The unfortunate reality is that this kind of isolation won’t end for everyone. For many of us it's just a part of growing older, with around half a million older people thought to regularly go several days without so much as speaking to another soul. But while older people may be at increased risk of isolation, that doesn’t means that we can’t all look forward to a return to normality, and the opportunity it gives us to tackle loneliness head on.
Why is loneliness so common in later life?
Loneliness can touch our lives at any age, but there are certain circumstances around growing older that can make it more difficult to stay connected. Perhaps it happens when our children grow up and move on, or when we retire and lose the daily office small talk we’ve grown used to. We might live to see friends and partners pass away and feel the pain of their loss. Some of us begin to feel the sting of loneliness because our health fails, and it becomes harder to stay engaged with our communities. Some older people may even feel pushed to the outskirts of society, thanks to ageism and a fast-paced world that’s moving on without us.
The difference between loneliness and being alone
Being on your own doesn’t always spell loneliness, of course. Plenty of us find peace in solitude, enjoying our own company with plenty of time for our favourite hobbies and pastimes. You may not mind being alone, but if you find you still need a bit of socialising from time to time, there are plenty of services that can help.
The same can be said of those who live with a partner or family – just because you’re not alone doesn’t mean you can’t feel lonely, as we all have different social needs. Whether you’re surrounded by loved ones, happy on your own, or feel consistent loneliness, you are not alone in those feelings and there is support out there for you.
The difficulty of admitting to loneliness
With such a stigma attached to loneliness, it can be very difficult to talk about these feelings. According to 2019 research, 74% of people have admitted that they have not reached out for help when they felt lonely. Whether it’s a matter of pride or not wanting to trouble the people around you, it’s important to reach out as ongoing loneliness can have an impact on your physical and mental health.
Making friends in later life
Making friends may not be as simple as it once was – there's no schoolyard or youth disco to bring you together past a certain age. But there are still a few ways that you can meet new people as an adult:
One of the best ways to connect with likeminded people could be to make friends through your hobbies. If you like to take long walks, see if there’s a walking club at your local park. If you’ve got green fingers, try to find a communal garden or allotment. If knitting is your thing, see if your town has a weekly Knit and Knatter.
If you’re retired and missing the social aspect of a workplace, volunteering can be a great way to meet people and find a sense of fulfillment! Perhaps you have a valuable skill you’d like to offer, or simply want to be an extra pair of hands for a cause that’s close to your heart? Visit DoIt.org to see what volunteering opportunities are available in your area, or get in touch with a local charity directly and see what you can do for them!
Social groups and events
Get in touch with your local Age UK to find out if they can recommend any friendship centres or social events for seniors. Some of these groups are run by older people for older people, and they can range from lunch clubs, to public forums, to entertainment, and more, depending on what’s available in your area.
Keeping up with loved ones
When our kids grow up, or family members move away or lead busy lives, it can make loneliness feel even more intense. Luckily, we live in a time when it’s easier than ever to stay connected with the people we love - from anywhere in the world! With social media and chat platforms like Zoom and Skype, you can not only keep up with your loved one's big moments, but talk with them face to face by video call. You could even use a messaging app like WhatsApp to create a dedicated chat, where your entire family can keep in touch by text as a group.
Tips for enjoying your own company
While being alone can be tough, especially for the extroverts among us, it could help to learn to enjoy your own company (as well as seeking out the company of friends new and old!) Here are some things you might enjoy doing alone:
Try your hand at writing or journaling
You could get your life story down on paper, or have a go at writing in your favourite genre. Pulitzer winning author Frank McCourt was in his mid 60s when he finally sat down to write the bestselling memoir Angela’s Ashes, so you never know what success you may have!
Pick up a new craft
Having some time to yourself presents a great opportunity to learn a fun new skill. You could get creative with some soothing painting sessions, take to YouTube to learn how to knit, sew or crochet, or get outdoors with a new hobby like fishing!
Making the most of senior benefits
Growing older in the UK comes with a few perks. Depending on where you live, you could avail of certain discounts and benefits once you reach 60 or state pension age. For example, theatres and museums often offer senior discounts. Plus, if you’re over 60 you could be eligible for a bus pass, and if you live in London you could benefit from free travel on trams, trains and buses with a Freedom Pass. Why not find out what discounts or freebies you qualify for locally and enjoy exploring your city or county?
Where to find support for loneliness
When loneliness and isolation are bringing you down, it can be difficult to talk about, but there are a few places you can turn to for help.
- 0800 678 1602
- 020 7605 4200
The Silver Line
- 0800 470 80 90
Friends of the Elderly
- 03305 550 378
- 0800 716 543
Royal Voluntary Service
- 0330 555 0310
The Chatty Café Scheme
If you’re worried about the impact that loneliness is having on your mental health, you could get in touch with:
- 116 123
- 0300 123 3393
Preparing for later life on your own
As we grow older, it’s natural to think about what the future holds and what legacy we’ll leave behind- perhaps even more so if we’re facing old age alone. If you find yourself worrying about what will happen when you pass away, we could help. We have a range of products to suit the needs of customers in later life. For example, with our Funeral Insurance Plan, you can leave behind a cash lump sum benefit amount to your legal beneficiary. They can then use this money to help pay for the send-off you really want.
Whatever your needs, our friendly team are always happy to talk about how we could help. You can reach us on 0800 803 0052.