Most people who are lonely want to increase the quality or quantity of their contact with other people. There are things you can do to help your relative or a friend if they are experiencing loneliness.
This might mean more frequent contact with family and friends, meeting new people or simply getting out of the house more often.
There are many ways you can help your relative overcome loneliness, and you can find suggestions here on this page, including:
1. Strengthening family ties
2. Changing living arrangements
3. Spending time outside of the home
4. Finding transport solutions
5. Getting online
Strengthening family ties
If your relative is feeling lonely, they will appreciate knowing that someone is thinking about them, even if it is a short letter or email, or a quick call to say hello.
Try to visit more often and encourage other family members to do the same. Arrange family get-togethers when possible, so that they can see grandchildren and other members of the family that might not live close by.
Think of things that an older relative and their children or grandchildren can do together, like plotting the family history, finding photos for a family album or making a scrapbook.
Changing living arrangements
If your relative's health is sufficiently good and, of course, she or he thinks it's a good idea, a move to sheltered housing, a retirement village or to live with a family member or friend, might bring a whole new set of opportunities for getting to know people of a similar age.
You can find out about the alternative living arrangements in our dedicated section on Housing options.
Spending time outside of the home
Joseph Rowntree Foundation
The JRF sets out to inspire social change, campaigning for lasting change for people and places now and for future generations. Among their work is research into loneliness, which you can find on this page.
If your relative has limited mobility and spends a lot of time at home they might appreciate any opportunity for a change of scenery – even if it’s a trip to the shops, a drive to the coast or into the countryside. Include your relative in family events and outings where possible. People who are disabled may be able to get help with mobility.
Finding transport solutions
Your relative might feel isolated if they no longer have a car, or can’t drive due to health problems. If they are still mobile and active, don’t forget that a bus pass for free travel might be available.
- In England, this is available when your relative reaches the female state pension age (65 at the minimum), whether they are a man or a woman.
- In Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, a bus pass for free travel is available at the age of 60 years.
- If your relative lives in London, he or she can travel for free on buses, tubes and other transport when they are 60 years old - but only within London.
Anyone over the age of 60 can also get a senior rail card that gives a third off rail fares if they travel off peak.
If your relative has limited mobility, it may be a good idea to look into community transport schemes, such as dial-a-ride. These are door-to-door transport services for people with mobility problems. They might be run by local authorities or local charities. Use our Care services directory to find out what services your relative's local authority runs for older people.
Computers can open up a whole new world of social interaction. For example, your relative could Skype with friends and family that live far away, though they'll need a webcam if they don't have one already. These are simple to purchase and are also relatively cheap.
Your relative might also be able to meet up with old friends on Facebook or other social networking sites. They may enjoy playing online games, either as a solitary activity or with other people.
The internet is also a good way of researching local groups and clubs that might be of interest, as this will allow them to become more social offline as well as online.
If your relative is not confident with computers it might be worth them doing a course. Lots of libraries and local authorities run courses for adults, or specifically for ‘silver surfers’. The Silversurfer’s Guide is a useful website offering advice to older people about getting online.
Making new friends
If old friends are no longer around, it’s never too late to make new ones. Your relative might feel less lonely if they can join a local club or group. They might consider attending a day centre as a way of socialising and making new friends.
Contact the Elderly is a charity working to end loneliness among older people in the UK, that holds regular free Sunday afternoon tea parties for people over-75 who live alone. It collects people from their homes and takes them to a volunteer host’s home for the afternoon.
If they are still relatively independent, they might consider joining a local club to do something that they enjoy, such as bridge, bowls or walking. Or 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 and older people often get reduced rates.
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. Your relative should check with their GP before starting any physical exercise.
The University of the Third Age (U3A) (see also Useful organisations and websites) is a self-help organisation for people no longer in full time employment providing educational, creative and leisure opportunities in a friendly environment. It has local branches across the UK. Contact U3A for more information and to find local groups. See ‘Useful organisations and websites’ for contact details.
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. They can call your relative on the phone at a set time each week, or visit 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 become a ‘befriender’ to another older person who wants someone to chat to.
Loneliness caused by mental health problems
If you think that your relative’s loneliness is caused by underlying mental health issues or depression, rather than their individual circumstances, they should visit their GP for advice. Their GP might offer medication or refer them to a counsellor. You can find details of counsellors from the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP) or the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). The charity Depression Alliance offers useful help and advice. It also runs Friends in Need - a supportive community for people living with depression. For contact details, see Useful organisations and websites.
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 (see Useful organisations and websites).
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.
They might want to volunteer at a local Citizens Advice Bureau in the local hospital or 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 (again, see Useful organisations and websites for all contact details).
If your relative is able to look after a pet this can provide a much-loved companion. Dog walking 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. Have a chat with your relative to make sure that they are aware of basic safety issues, such as walking in well lit places and not going anywhere too remote.
- Loneliness and depression: our guide to help carers cope with loneliness, anxiety and depression.
- Types of respite care: your relative might benefit from attending a day care centre of club; find out more.
- Sheltered housing: read about the different types of sheltered housing and the benefits and drawbacks.
Page last reviewed: February 2016
Next review due: April 2018