Older people are especially vulnerable to loneliness and social isolation.
Some common reasons for becoming socially isolated include:
- getting older or weaker
- no longer being the hub of the family
- leaving the workplace
- the deaths of spouses and friends
- disability or illness
Whatever the cause, it's shockingly easy to be left feeling alone and vulnerable. This can lead to declines in both mental and physical health and wellbeing.
People who are lonely often find it hard to reach out. There is a stigma surrounding loneliness. Older people tend not to ask for help because they have too much pride.
It's important to remember loneliness can affect anyone, of any age.
Coping with loneliness
There are ways to overcome loneliness as an older person, even if you live alone and find it hard to get out.
Smile, even if it feels hard
Grab every chance to smile at others or begin a conversation. For example, with the cashier at the shop or the person next to you in the GP waiting room. If you're shy or not sure what to say, try asking people about themselves.
Invite friends for tea
If you're feeling down and alone, it's normal to think nobody wants to visit you. But often friends and family will appreciate you inviting them to come and spend some time with you.
Keep in touch by phone
Having a chat with a friend or relative over the phone can be the next best thing to being with them in person.
Learn to love computers
If your friends and family live far away, a good way to stay in touch is by using a computer or tablet (a handheld computer).
Things that you can do to stay connected:
- share emails and photos with family and friends
- have free video chats using services such as Skype, FaceTime or Viber
- use social media sites such as Facebook to keep in touch with friends
- use website forums to chat about topics that interest you
A tablet computer is especially useful if you can't get around easily. If you have arthritic hands or fingers with poor circulation, they can be easier to use.
Libraries and community centres often hold training courses for older people to learn computer skills. They are also a good place to meet and spend time with others.
Age Action offer free training on computers, tablets and smartphones to people over the age of 55.
Get involved in local community activities
These will vary according to where you live so check to see what's in your local area. Getting involved in community activities is great for your mental health.
Some ideas of groups you may like to get involved in include:
- book club
- quiz nights
- Irish Men's Sheds Association
- Irish Countrywomen's Association (ICA)
Activities with others can improve your mental health
Fill your diary
It can help you feel less lonely if you plan the week ahead and put things in your diary to look forward to each day.
This could be:
- a walk in the park
- going to a local coffee shop
- going to the library
- taking a class at your local sports centre
- going to the cinema
- visiting a museum
Get out and about
Don't wait for people to come and see you - travel to visit them instead.
One advantage of being older is that public transport is better value. If you are 66 or over living in Ireland permanently, you are entitled to the Free Travel Scheme. The free travel pass works on all State public transport (bus, rail and Dublin's LUAS service) with some exceptions.
Use your knowledge and experience to give something back to your community. You'll get lots back in return, such as new skills and confidence.
If you need to talk to someone, call Seniorline for free on 1800 80 45 91. Lines are open every day 10am to 10pm. Seniorline is a confidential listening service for older people. The service is provided by trained older volunteers.