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Loneliness in older people: how to help

There are lots of ways you can do your bit to help lonely or socially isolated older 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 our 5 steps to mental wellbeing and where volunteering fits in

Read about the benefits of volunteering on the Royal Voluntary Service website

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 older 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 do not shout!).

Pause between sentences and questions to give them chance to digest the information. And allow a little extra time for them to respond – do not 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 does not 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 older 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 older person to a social event, or even hosting coffee mornings for groups of older people.

You can find more information on volunteering to befriend and support older people from these organisations:

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.

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 do not need back – it's hard work for both of you to keep track of serving bowls.

Find easy dinner ideas and recipes

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 autumn or early winter) if they have had a free flu vaccine 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 how to stay well in winter

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 678 1602.

Find out how to spot and treat hypothermia

Useful resources

If you suspect your parents are lonely, read the When They Get Older website's loneliness guide.

Get advice on how to cope with loneliness on the Mind website.

Get more ideas for how to volunteer in your area from GOV.UK

Page last reviewed: 16 September 2022
Next review due: 16 September 2025