Coping With Loneliness
With over one million older people in this country reporting that they often go for weeks without speaking to another living soul, it’s clear that loneliness in older people is a real problem. There are all sorts of reasons why loneliness in old age is such a problem: retirement brings an end to workplace socialising, whilst losing a spouse or other close friend can create a sense of loss and isolation. Perhaps your older relative no longer has friends in the local area, or they may be experiencing health problems which make visiting friends difficult. A lack of local transport options coupled with financial difficulties can also have a profound negative effect upon your relative’s ongoing social life.
Signs of Loneliness to Watch Out For
Your loved one may be reluctant to voice their concerns, but there are signs that you can look out for which could indicate a problem. Keep an eye out for unexplained changes in their behaviour, niggling health issues which could be a result of spending too much time alone, and befriending unlikely people, which should always ring alarm bells, as con artists are known for preying on older people who may be more vulnerable.
You may find that your relative is coping with loneliness in a variety of ways, most of them inherently self-destructive, such as relying on alcohol to deaden the pain. Loneliness in older people can also manifest as depression, which is self-defeating as it lessens the chance that they will take positive action to integrate themselves into social situations. In some cases, older people will even stop eating, falling prey to malnutrition as they lose interest in taking care of themselves.
How You Can Help
Encourage your loved one to stay in touch with friends and family, whether nearby or further afield. Perhaps you can drive them to social events or ask their friends to visit them. Encourage your relative to speak to people over the phone, and teach them how to use email, texting and Skype to stay in touch too, if they’re not very good with technology.
Look out for local clubs that might interest them, and seek out befriending services which are offered by some local charities. You might find that a pet cat or dog would offer much-needed companionship to a lonely loved one – why not suggest that they offer a home to an older rescue animal, which would also be in need of some loving companionship?
Encourage the rest of your family to get in touch with your loved one, whether through regular visits or just a weekly phone call. Consider altering the family’s living arrangements, perhaps by moving your loved one into your own home. Alternatively, a move into sheltered housing or a retirement village would offer them extra opportunities to mingle and socialise with others.
Tackling loneliness in older people can be as simple as offering them regular trips out and about, even if it’s just a trip to the local shops and back. It won’t take much time out of your day, yet it could make all the difference to an older person who is feeling lonely and really help to brighten up their day.