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.
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.
Help with household tasks
Getting older can make it hard to tackle even simple jobs around the house.
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.
Watch out 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 have 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 their doctor or NHS 111.
You could also contact your local council or ring the Age UK helpline on 0800 009 966.
Read about 10 winter illnesses that are triggered or worsened by cold weather.
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: 27 September 2018
Next review due: 27 September 2021