Loneliness in the elderly: how to help

There are lots of ways you can do your bit to help lonely or socially isolated elderly people in your community. The person you're helping will reap health benefits, and you'll find you will as well.

Useful resources

  • If you suspect your parents are lonely, read When They Get Older website's Loneliness Guide
  • Mind's How to Cope with Loneliness guide has advice on how to help someone you know who is lonely
  • Volunteering for an organisation that supports older people is a key way of helping a lonely or socially isolated older person. But a simple friendly chat or phone call can make all the difference, too.

    Evidence suggests giving your time in this way could be as valuable to you as the person you support. It's likely to boost your self-esteem and sense of purpose. And helping others takes your mind off your own problems for a while.

    Read about how helping others can be incredibly rewarding.

    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.
    • Friends of the Elderly needs volunteers to help with its day centres, telephone befriending groups and coffee mornings in sheltered housing schemes, and get involved in its Be a Friend campaign.
    • 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 (ideally in October before winter sets in) 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.

    Read about ways to keep warm and well.

    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.

    Find out how to spot and treat hypothermia.

    Read about 10 winter illnesses that are triggered or worsened by cold weather.

    Read more government advice on the practical steps you can take to get ready for winter.

    Useful resources

    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.

    Read about how volunteering is good for your health.

    Get more ideas for how to volunteer in your area.

    Page last reviewed: 30/11/2015

    Next review due: 30/11/2017

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