Far too many of our elderly population today experience loneliness. Modern families tend to live further apart, and some of the older members of our communities simply don’t have the local support network that they need in order to feel fulfilled in life. After a lifetime of independence, those in later life might find it difficult to reach out for help. They might feel “over the hill” – but they absolutely shouldn’t! Getting older tends to bring all sorts of aches and inconveniences, but loneliness certainly doesn’t need to be one of them.
Identifying the main hurdles that are blocking a richer, more social experience is a crucial step in the process of identifying the best ways to avoid and overcome loneliness. With some perspective in place, there are lots of things that we can all do to help swap loneliness for togetherness – for ourselves, or each other!
Some of the barriers that can get in the way of experiencing a connection with others are purely practical, while others can be of a psychological nature. Whatever the challenge may be, there is usually a solution within reach!
It’s a tough reality that there is a social stigma around ageing and the elderly. Unfortunately, it’s something we’ve all probably come across at one point or another in our lives. Some may forget that an older person can be just as feisty, intelligent, or inspiring as they’ve ever been! On the other side of the coin, those in later life often feel that they shouldn’t make a fuss, or they don’t have a valid part to play within their community any more. These sorts of social stigmas might seem small, but they can nudge us into unhelpful behaviour ruts if we’re not careful. We can side-step stigmas by talking through potential causes behind our feelings and actively shedding unhelpful thoughts and behaviours.
Feeling unwell or experiencing pain can make socialising rather tricky, and loneliness that bit more likely. Other health issues can throw a direct spanner in the works, such as hearing loss, eye-sight issues, or difficulty with incontinence. While we may not be able to restore ourselves to full sprite-like form in later life, many of the issues that might keep us from connecting are possible to address, and perhaps even resolve! If you or a loved one are experiencing health issues that are holding you back, make an appointment with the doctor or optician, and explore what can be done. When it comes to your health there’s nothing to lose, but there might be a lot to gain!
Fear Of Change
Those experiencing loneliness may well feel intimidated about seeking support, for fear of having to leave their home or accept help from professional carers. This kind of anxiety is understandable when you have never needed help before, but for many, finally receiving much-needed support is a huge relief in the end. Open communication and reassurance can go a long way to help a loved one feel more confident about how changes could help, rather than hinder!
Some elderly people no longer drive, so getting to events, social locations, and even to the shops or an appointment can become a real challenge. Being aware of the transport needs of older people around us, exploring the available support in the area, and helping others figure out something new can be hugely empowering. Those who live more remotely are even more vulnerable to loneliness and may, therefore, require extra thought.
Self-care can become arduous with old age. Tasks such as washing and grooming may become difficult to keep up, and getting to the barbers might become an impossible feat! When we don’t feel that we look our best, heading into social situations can be far more daunting. Seeking, or giving support for some good quality self-care is so important, and gives a huge boost to our sense of well-being!
In later life, we are more likely to experience bereavement. For those who have lived with a partner their whole life, but are now living alone, the adjustment can be incredibly hard. Interacting as a solo can bring difficult emotions to the surface and may also feel uncomfortable. Being aware of this challenge and gently moving through the sadness of bereavement, with kindness and patience, is the surest way to move back towards building connections again.
11 Great Strategies To Overcome Loneliness In Later Life
Sometimes we have family members or loved ones that we can ask to help us make changes to our daily lives, while at other times, digging deep and deciding to take steps to help ourselves can be a necessary step. Breaking a pattern of loneliness is challenging, not least of all because we may be out of practice when it comes to connecting with others, but nonetheless it is always worthwhile. Life is far more rewarding and joyful when we see others and feel seen in return! Here are a few simple ideas to inspire you:
#1 Rekindle A Forgotten Interest Or Find A New One
Often, a perfect opportunity to connect with others has been with us all along. If you have a life-long interest, a skill, passion, or an old hobby that you could re-visit, others are certain to value your insights and welcome you into their own journey! Consider if there is an activity that is worth re-visiting. If that doesn’t float your boat, why not learn something new? Classes and groups in anything from arts and crafts to languages, or dancing, can be a magical way to recharge your grey matter and make new friends.
#2 Teach Or Volunteer
Few things in life are more rewarding than helping others, and teaching, or volunteering with a local cause or charity, can offer you fantastic engagement, an instant sense of community, and the chance to touch the lives of others in truly powerful ways. Being retired doesn’t take these sorts of pursuits off the table!
#3 Consider Hiring A Caregiver
Professional caregivers can offer invaluable support on any scale, from someone who pops by for a few hours at a time to help with chores, to someone who lives in, and makes every day easier while offering great company. The thought of having a stranger around might seem a little uncomfortable, but a reputable agency will take great care to match you with the ideal caregiver for you. Companionship, support, and a little more freedom to focus on the things you want to do, rather than the things you need to do can lift a massive weight from your shoulders.
#4 Head Outdoors
Making the habit of getting out of the house each day is more powerful than you imagine. Not only is it deeply impactive in terms of boosting mental and physical wellbeing, but it also gives us a chance to connect to our community in small ways. Simply saying hello to others, dropping into your local shop or cafe, or doing some good old fashioned people-watching in the park can alleviate a sense of isolation, and may lead to unexpected bonds!
#5 Find Out What’s Going On In Your Area
With a little research, you will likely be amazed at how many activities and resources are available in your neighbourhood. From social events targeted specifically at the elderly, to local transport schemes, and community gatherings, most of us are usually oblivious to all sorts of opportunities that surround us, simply unseen!
#6 Master of Social Media
The internet might be something that you eye up with scepticism, but for all of its faults, it does provide an instant way to connect with others, anywhere in the world. Getting to grips with a social media platform like Facebook can provide the chance to see what family members have been up to, reach out to old friends who live far away, or find online groups of people with the same hobbies or interests. You could explore online courses, start a blog, or listen to podcasts too!
#7 Get A Pet
Sharing your home and your life with an animal is a wonderful way of alleviating loneliness in later life. The affection that pets can provide, not to mention the boundless enthusiasm can be infectious, and heart-warming! If you don’t like the idea of getting a puppy or kitten, why not look for adult animals in need of adoption in your local area. Their presence will bring routine to your day, provide a great conversation starter, and who knows what adorable ways they might find to amuse you!
#8 Reinvent Yourself!
Feeling old, or past your best doesn’t mean that new experiences are behind you. No matter our age, there is always space for reinvention! Whether it’s taking up a new hobby, changing your lifestyle, getting some live-in help, or a jazzy new haircut, positive changes are not changes to be feared. Regaining a sense of control through self-steering, even if it’s only in small ways – can help us find the confidence we need to make new connections and break old patterns that weren’t serving us well.
#9 How You Can Help An Older Person You Know
It’s always worth reflecting on the elderly around you. With some mindfulness, you will pick up more easily if there are those more vulnerable, who might need a kind gesture or a helping hand. Even such simple things as making a point to smile and say hello to older people within your community can touch lives in meaningful ways. If there is an acquaintance or loved one who you think needs more help, have a think about what you can do to help.
#10 Support Caregivers
In many cases, the burden of caring for an elderly loved one falls on a close family member. While we all want to be there for those we love, juggling life’s usual challenges while providing a great deal of support to someone else can leave many caregivers feeling overstretched. If you know someone who has taken this role, checking in with them and offering to share their load when you’re able to might just tip the scales away from burnout, and back into balance.
#11 Offer A Ride Or A Hand
You can always offer the elderly person you worry about small but vital acts of support. Offering to pick up heavy groceries, or to combine your trip into town with their doctor’s appointment, can not only help them practically but also provide a great social opportunity! Anything from odd jobs around the house, to car-pooling at the weekend, could be your way of building a bridge into a renewed sense of community.
Start A Wave Of Change!
Big changes tend to start with small steps. Deciding to make a difference within your community can have a ripple effect, and influence others to do the same. Why not explore local organisations to see what volunteering opportunities they provide in your area. Explore local schemes, projects, and charities that aim to provide support to vulnerable older people and do your bit to spread the word. You are likely to learn a huge amount from the older people you encounter, gaining an insight into wisdom, and experience that is certainly meant to be shared!