Tackle loneliness this Christmas: 6 ways you can help
We all know that in our later years we are more vulnerable to feeling lonely and isolated - but how many of us actually do anything to help?
The charity Age UK has claimed that more than one million older people regularly go an entire month without speaking to anyone - and more than half of those have never spoken to anyone about how they feel.
As we move into later life, our personal circumstances naturally change. Retirement, bereavement and poor physical or mental health can all cause chronic loneliness to set in, which can then lead to a vicious cycle of further health problems.
Recent studies have shown that loneliness and isolation can be linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, an increased risk of dementia, anxiety and depression. In fact, some experts believe loneliness is as damaging for our health as smoking and obesity.
The loss of confidence that can come, both in later life and from feeling the effects of isolation, means many cases of loneliness go unnoticed. Loneliness makes us reluctant to reach out and people of the older generation particularly, tend to worry about being a ‘burden’ to others.
But the truth is, loneliness is everyone’s business. We all need friendship, we all need support and we all need to feel connected. Getting older doesn’t have to mean getting lonelier.
How to support an older person
Do you know a mature person who might be feeling lonely? Here’s what to do:
1. Get to know your neighbours.
This will create a sense of community and can be a real support to someone silently in need.
2. Plan holidays and birthdays well in advance.
This will make sure that distant relatives feel included when it really matters.
3. Invite them out.
Offer to take someone older you know out for a coffee or to the shop - this can help to break up the monotony of someone’s day.
4. Remind them of their worth.
Show an interest, ask their advice, listen to their stories. These things can help them to feel valued
5. New hobbies.
If they are able, encourage them to join a club, learn a new skill or volunteer - primary schools are always looking for people to listen to children read.
6. Show them they are not alone.
There are times when everybody feels lonely but there’s always a way to reach out to other people.
Remember that every older person is different. Repeatedly asking that they do something out of their comfort zone could do more harm than good. Be patient and try to strike the right balance. Showing that you care and are interested in their wellbeing could go a long way.
The Christmas season isn’t always easy. If you’re a Benenden Health member, you can access our Mental Health Helpline 24/7. Whether you're suffering from anxiety, depression, bereavement or relationship problems, we can make sure you don’t have to handle it alone by providing access to an experienced therapist.