Engage: Luca Rado explores strategies and resources to tackle loneliness in the elderly
Loneliness can be defined as a state or feeling where an individual feels separated from meaningful interactions and relationships, be that through physical distance or emotional distance. Loneliness can be caused when traditional ways to communicate or socialise are limited, for whatever reason. Meaningful conversations and interactions can be inhibited for some, and it can be, and often is, particularly associated with elderly people.
Loneliness in the elderly
Loneliness in the elderly tends to be more common than in any other age group. Recent studies have shown that there are nearly 12 million (11,989,322) people aged 65 and above in the UK that are sadly lonely.
Loneliness in the elderly is caused by several factors that tend to impact older people more than younger people.
This can include:
- Being a widower – Losing a spouse or partner due to old age or illness in old age is a large contributing factor to loneliness, as many find comfort, solace and company in their other half. Statistically speaking women have generally reported feeling more lonely than men – this could be because women tend to live longer than men.
- The family have moved away – Another reason why an elderly person may feel lonely stems from the possibility that their family members no longer live nearby, and are therefore harder to see or contact regularly. When children grow up and start to form their own lives, including perhaps starting their own family, then the older generation can sometimes feel neglected, or certainly less in the centre of things as they once were. This can only be heightened by issues such as ill-health, mobility problems, or loss of a spouse or partner.
- Mobility issues – Another factor impacting how lonely people may feel is how mobile that individual is. If they struggle to walk independently, or cannot drive or be left unaided for a long time, this can significantly reduce their social interactions. For example, they may not be able to travel to the shops unaided, or may not be able to attend community events or functions such as afternoon teas, community workshops, group activities such as knitting. If they are unable to drive or travel easily, then they may be restricted from visiting loved ones or family members compared to someone who is fully mobile and able.
- Disability issues – Again, similar to mobility issues, depending on an elderly person’s dependence on others, this can seriously impact their independence and their ability to meet or socialise with others.
COVID and the impact on loneliness
The coronavirus pandemic that first impacted the lives of those in the UK in early 2020 has had a serious and detrimental impact on the lives of the elderly. Due to the very real risk that the COVID-19 virus posed to those over the age of 65, many care homes across the country have had their doors closed to visitors since the first lockdown in March 2020.
This has meant being physically kept away from loved ones or without a familiar contact and routine. Additionally, elderly people living alone have found themselves cut off from normal points of contact greatly because of this pandemic.
Normal social interactions like getting the bus to the shops, a visit from family, or a day out with a friend were brought to a halt, and still a year on, many elderly people have not been able to engage in such activities even if they wanted to.
What to do if you think someone is feeling lonely
Loneliness amongst the older generation is not a new find, with many charities and organisations working hard to find ways to connect seniors and increase their daily interactions and check-ins.
Age UK reported that 3.8 million individuals over the age of 65 live alone, 58% of whom are over 75 (around 2.2 million individuals), so there’s a high chance that an elderly loved one of yours is prone to feelings of loneliness, sadness and disconnection.
If you are a home care worker or family carer and are concerned someone may be feeling lonely, here are three solutions which might mitigate the problem.
#1 – Keep them busy
Keeping busy is the biggest form of distraction from any feelings of sadness or loneliness. Whilst at the time of writing this, there are still restrictions on interaction and meeting up, and maybe the older person is physically unable for a walk, there are other ways to keep busy.
Book in calls, arrange to watch the same TV show or film and then discuss it later. Book a regular family or group visit. Plan themed meals together for particular events. Doing the same thing and the same time – even if not together – brings a sense of belonging and togetherness for both parties.
#2 – Stay in contact
Digital disconnection is one of the biggest risks of all. Whilst grandchildren and adult children can easily share pictures, videos, and voice notes, this is all very new to this generation. There are lots of advancements in technology to suit senior users or those with dexterity issues to be able to still stay in touch easily.
Technology isn’t the only answer; it’s heartwarming to also receive letters or ‘thinking of you’ gifts. Regular contact is the key here. Loneliness, like all feelings, isn’t easy for someone to always communicate.
Staying in regular contact keeps the communication and conversation channel open should they wish to discuss their feelings or ask for extra support and help.
#3 – Make inclusive plans
We’ve all gone from regular social contact to limited or zero interaction over the last year. When you’ve had a life with lots of laughs, events and engagements, this is quite a shock to the system, physically and mentally.
Not all elderly people are as physically able as they used to be and this can be a barrier in arranging activities, as they are worried they may struggle, hurt themselves, or cause inconvenience.
Remind them that you will be there, and find solutions to barriers that keep them alone. When it is safe to do so, arrange lunches at cafés that are wheelchair accessible, or find parks with lots of benches for rests.
These little touches can be the difference in their involvement and happiness, or them passing up the opportunity to socialise.
Please note: Not all activities will be possible as the UK is under changing lockdown restrictions. Please ensure that you abide by all existing rules in place.
Useful resources for senior loneliness
- Doro – this company makes easy-to-use technology solutions like smartphones for seniors; making digital interaction like image sharing or video calls possible and easier – https://www.doro.com/en-gb/
- HearMe App – created for people who just want to talk; whether it’s something serious like loss of a loved one, severe isolation, significant life changes, or merely a craving for human interaction. This is one of the best apps for loneliness; it’s designed for emotional health and wellbeing, allows users to text-chat with a trained volunteer – https://www.hearme.app/
- Silverline’s telephone friendship service – in partnership with Age UK, this 24/7 service is free for the over 60s. A weekly phone call from one of its volunteers can form a new bond with someone external to the family or usual group, all from the comfort of their own home – https://www.thesilverline.org.uk/what-we-do/telephone-friendship-service/
- Royal Voluntary Service – this charity has lots of opportunities for the elderly to socialise and combat loneliness virtually as well as in-person when current Covid-19 restrictions ease. In-person activities such as community cafes, lunch clubs and social events, and could be key in helping expand your elderly friend or family’s social circle and weekly interactions – https://www.royalvoluntaryservice.org.uk/our-services/social-activities
- Re-engage – is a charity that is positive about older age and committed to fighting loneliness so that people can have social lives and friendship groups, however old they are. With a UK-wide network of over 15,000 volunteers, the charity has been providing social connections to people over 75 facing loneliness and social isolation for over 50 years. Last year Re-engage launched call companions; a telephone befriending service supporting older people who live alone with regular friendly phone calls and, as lockdown eases, the charity will resume its much-loved monthly tea parties. – https://www.reengage.org.uk/
- Disabled Living – as above, making inclusive plans to suit loved one’s abilities and keep them comfortable is key to their involvement. This handy guide by Disabled Living highlights the best places in the UK that are suitable for those with mobility issues or needs – https://www.disabledliving.co.uk/blog/disability-friendly-places-to-visit-in-the-uk/
- Amazon’s Echo Show range – this collection of gadgets will allow you to stay virtually connected with family and friends with its hands-free video calling and messaging system. The Echo Show 10, in particular, brings a whole new level of connection and interaction with its smart screen, which also moves with you, so keeps your loved one appearing on the screen at all times – https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2021/apr/30/amazon-echo-show-10-review-rotating-alexa-display-follows-you-around
About the Author
Luca Rado is co-founder of The Live In Care Company who provide carers to elderly clients. Luca was writing on the company website which provides useful advice on everything from falls prevention to nutrition. Visit: https://www.theliveincarecompany.co.uk/care-guides/