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When your elderly relatives won’t talk about loneliness…

If someone you’re close to feels lonely, it can be difficult to know what to do or say. Read how you can tackle loneliness in elderly relatives.

January 18, 2018

Elderly loneliness

The Radio Times kicked off 2018 by asking readers to choose their favourite children’s TV show. The winner? Blue Peter. Who can forget daredevil John Noakes climbing Nelson’s Column before the days of health and safety? Or the baby elephant trying to escape from the studio?

Shared memories like these give us a connection to other people, and make us smile. Television can bring us together with friends, neighbours and strangers. But, sadly, two-fifths of older people say that television is now their main form of company. Many won’t admit to feeling lonely.

They want to remain independent and feel bad about being a burden.

Maintaining social connections

As we get older, it’s easy to find ourselves without the connections we used to have. Television is a poor substitute for friends and family no longer close by, and aches and pains (or anxieties) may make it harder to get out. Those in retirement are also likely to see fewer people in the week.

Loneliness can build and soon become a chronic problem, decreasing someone’s confidence and their self-esteem. Some experts say that it’s worse for our health than obesity, and the same as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Knowing what to say

If someone you’re close to feels lonely, it can be difficult to know what to do or say. It’s a sensitive subject, and you might feel wary of intruding. How can you show you care, and make sure your loved one trusts any extra care and support you may be able to arrange?

There’s lots of good advice out there on how to help people stay more socially connected – take a look at the links beneath this article for ideas. Perhaps the best support is to help them make new acquaintances, or to find different kinds of relationships. If they seem interested in a particular activity, help them get there. Or go along yourself to make it less daunting. It doesn’t matter who we are - everyone needs a nudge to get into good habits!

Make a difference by showing you're available

Perhaps the most important thing is to simply show that you’re available – call, visit or email them regularly to keep in touch. However you do this, build the habit and be dependable. A phone call may feel like another thing on your busy ‘to-do’ list, but it can mean the world to someone who’s been looking forward to a chat.

If you live far away, can anyone else help make sure that the person sees or speaks to someone regularly? This could be a friend, neighbour or even a volunteer. We’ve listed some voluntary organisations that offer this service in the links below.

Finding a little extra support

There are also paid-for services that can help to supplement this personal contact, giving everyone involved a little extra reassurance and support. At Taking Care we’ve been providing personal alarm services for more than 35 years and now help over 70,000 people stay in the homes they love. We offer 24/7 help at the touch of a pendant or alarm unit, plus a medical support line staffed by qualified nurses. We also have pharmacists on hand to answer questions on pills and prescriptions.

We can’t fix loneliness, but we can offer another connection for older people – helping them to remain independent and in control. And we can give you some tips on how to talk to parents about care.

The human need for friendship increases with age. We all need connections that matter. These organisations might be able to help: 

  • Good Gym – a community of runners, who will pop in to see an isolated older person.
  • Independent Age – advice and support for older age.
  • Making Music – have around 3,000 member groups including choirs and community festivals.
  • Men's Sheds - community spaces for men to connect.
  • NCVO - champions the voluntary sector.
  • The Silver Line – a free confidential helpline (0800 4 70 80 90) providing information, friendship and advice.
  • The Woman's Institute - the largest voluntary women's organisation in the UK.
  • Walking for Health – who offer free, short walks every week.
  • University of the Third Age – for retired members of the community.
  • Volunteering Matters – who have 10,000 volunteers over the age of 50.

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