One of the best ways to combat loneliness, especially in older people, is to increase the time they spend with friends. These can be old friends, new friends, or even friends on four legs.
On this page you can find information on:
1. Keeping in touch with old friends
2. Making new friends
3. Befriending services
5. Animal companions
Keeping in touch with old friends
If your relative has friends in the local area, you should encourage them to stay in touch. It may be the case that mobility problems or a lack of transportation is preventing them from seeing their friends as much as they would like to; if this is the case you could investigate other transport solutions and mobility aids.
A good way to stay in touch without even leaving the home is to use the phone regularly, or invite friends round for lunch or a cup of tea. It may be the case that people might not want to invite themselves, or drop in unannounced, so encourage your relative to extend the invitation.
They may want to ask a friend to join a local club or group with them, so they are both able to make new friends and stay active.
Making new friends
It’s never too late to make new friends. Your relative might feel less lonely if they can join a local club or group, or attending a day centre as a way of socialising and making new friends. Contact the Elderly is a charity that holds regular free Sunday afternoon tea parties for people over 75 who live alone. As part of the service, they collect people from their homes and take them to a volunteer host’s
home for the afternoon.
If your relative is still relatively independent, they might consider joining a local club to do something that they enjoy, such as bridge, bowls or walking. They might want to join a class to explore a new hobby, such as art, creative writing, learning a new language or photography. Many local schools and colleges offer part time courses for adults.
If they are in good health they could take part in a fitness class, such as yoga, pilates, aerobics or zumba. Many leisure centres offer exercise classes especially for older people, which are low impact and often have reduced prices. Fitness classes are a good way to make new friends, increase social interaction and keep active, though it is a good idea for your relative to check with their GP before starting any physical exercise.
You could help by finding out about groups in your relative’s area. If your relative is nervous about joining a group you could help by offering to go to the first session with them, or remind them that other people in the group are likely to be feeling the same as them. A friendly smile or a few kind words can make the world of difference, particularly to someone who spends most of their time in the house alone.
Several charities offer befriending services, where an older person is assigned a ‘friend’ who will contact them on a regular basis to provide friendly chat and companionship. Befrienders are volunteers and their role involves calling your relative on the phone at a set time each week, or visiting your relative at home for a cup of tea. Esther Rantzen’s charity The Silver Line and also Age UK and Independent Age offer befriending services. Your relative could even choose to become a ‘befriender’ to another older person.
In addition, the Silver Line runs Silver Circles, which are conference calls for several like-minded people who want to chat in a group, and Silver Letters for people who like to write and receive hand-written letters and may be hearing impaired.
If your relative is still quite active and mobile they might want to become a local volunteer. They’ll be able to meet new people and keep busy, while helping others at the same time.
There are many volunteering opportunities available, such as at a local Citizens Advice Bureau, in the local hospital or in an animal shelter. You can search for volunteering opportunities at Volunteering England or check out your relative’s local Royal Voluntary Society or Age UK for possible opportunities. You can find all the relevant contact information on our Useful organisations and websites page.
If your relative is able to look after a pet this can provide a much-loved companion. Animals such as dogs and cats have been proven to help improve depression, anxiety and stress, as well as offering daily companionship.
Dog walking either their own pet or in a voluntary capacity could help your relative to get out and about and potentially meet new people. Taking care of a pet can lift people’s spirits, making them feel more positive and in control.
If your relative is considering getting a pet, have a chat with them beforehand to make sure they are prepared for the full responsibility, as pets – particularly puppies and kittens – often have a lot of energy and require a lot of care.
- Useful organisations and websites: all of the contact details for the organisations discussed above can be found here.
- Retirement villages: a complete guide to retirement villages, including what to expect and what they offer.
- How to communicate effectively: helpful advice and tips if you are finding it difficult to have important conversations with your relative.
Page last reviewed: 29 February 2016
Next review due: 31 October 2017