12 ways to beat loneliness

Volunteering at BHF shop

Feeling lonely affects many of us. As a new report sets out the scale of the problem, we suggest practical ways you can connect with other people.

Around a million older people in the UK feel lonely all or most of the time, according to a new report. The report, called Combating loneliness: a guide for local authorities, is published by the Local Government Association, Age UK and the Campaign to End Loneliness.

It found that over half of the population aged 75 and over live alone, and reduced mobility and little contact with friends and family were strong contributors to their isolation.

In medical terms, loneliness has been linked to higher blood pressure and depression, and an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

If you enjoy a good read, you might enjoy being part of a book club

Having a heart condition, or other health condition, can sometimes contribute to loneliness, for example if you’ve had to give up work or other activities you enjoy.

Here are 12 ideas for things you can do to help you feel less lonely.

1. Take up a new hobby

Men in ShedsRetirement is a great time to pick up old hobbies again, or even take up new ones.

The University of the Third Age (U3A) runs classes and groups for retired and semi-retired people on a broad range of topics, such as wine tasting, botany, scrabble, history and kitchen gardening. These are usually held in somebody’s home, a local library or community centre.

Another great organisation is Men in Sheds, which offers a combination of practical activities, such as mending furniture, bike repair and carpentry.

2. Volunteer for a good cause

VolunteeringIf there’s a charity or organisation you support, why not volunteer to help it? It can be a great opportunity to get out of the house, meet new people and feel useful.

Charity shops play an important role raising funds for good causes and often need an extra pair of hands.

3. Make friends through the Silver line

Letter writingThe Silver Line is free and confidential. You can call to talk to them about how you're feeling or anything else you'd like to.

If you like, they can put you in touch with Silver Line friends, so you'll receive a weekly friendship call or the Silver Circle to take part in a regular group call on subjects that interest the group.

There's also the Silver Letters service, which allows you to exchange regular letters and correspondence from a volunteer Silver Line friend.

4. Get into books

Lady reading a bookIf you enjoy a good read, you might enjoy being part of a book club. It can be fun and mentally stimulating to discuss books with like-minded people. 

You could set up your own group, and meet up every month, taking turns to host it in your house and provide snacks. Otherwise, you can ask your local council or librarian if they know of existing book clubs.

If you just want to read with others around you, most libraries provide access and facilities for the elderly and people with limited mobility. There’s usually a selection of audio books and large print books, and many libraries hold readings and events too.

5. Gardening

Mowing the lawnIf looking after your garden has become too strenuous, it doesn’t mean that your gardening days are over. Schemes such as Garden Buddies and Garden Friends match people over the age of 60 with volunteers who’ll help with your garden.

It’s a great way to get some fresh air and gentle exercise, and rewarding to grow your own flowers or vegetables.

If you don’t have your own garden, you can apply to the council for an allotment. These are usually grouped together, so you can meet your fellow gardeners, and perhaps find somebody who wouldn’t mind carrying your filled-up watering can.

6. Board games

Scrabble lettersBoard games can be a great way to interact with other people and have a bit of fun. Many of the classic board games that we enjoyed in our youth are still popular – anyone for Scrabble, Monopoly, backgammon or a good puzzle?

You can enjoy a good board game at any age. Some are available with larger pieces, in case you’re not as nimble fingered or your sight isn’t as good as it once was. You should be able to find details of local clubs online. Otherwise, the Royal Voluntary Service runs activity and board game events, and they can tell you if there are any in your area.

7. Join a Heart Support Group

Heart Support FitnessHeart Support Groups are friendly, supportive local groups for people with heart conditions and their families.

Activities vary between different groups, but typically include exercise classes tailored for people with heart conditions, and talks about different topics. 

8. Go to the cinema

PopcornThe allure of visiting the cinema and watching a great movie never fades. Most of the big cinemas have special screenings for older people at discounted rates, and also provide free hot drinks and biscuits, so you can have a chat and make the occasion a little more sociable. 

Showings tend to be during the day and they tend to play movie classics and modern movies chosen to suit the audience. There are usually facilities for people with restricted mobility, and some cinemas provide audio descriptions and/or sub-titles or hearing devices.

9. Keep in contact online

A man contacting her wife on his iPad using SkypeIf your friends or family live far away or you can’t go out to meet them, programmes such as Skype can help you to keep in touch. Skype allows you to video call someone for free, wherever they are in the world (as long as you both have internet access) so you can see them when you talk.

Whether you want to keep in touch with old friends or meet new people, there are social media sites designed especially for older people, such as Older is Wiser and you can chat to other people with heart conditions on the BHF online community

There are lots of courses that teach people to use the computer and internet, and you’ll also get to meet other ‘older pupils’ who are learning as well. 

10. Borrow a dog

Little doggyIf you’re a dog lover, but don’t have the space, time or money to have your own, then ‘dog borrowing’ might be just the thing for you. Maybe a friend or neighbour has a dog they’d like to get a walk and some company during the day.

Alternatively, you can sign up to a dog-borrowing scheme, such as Borrow my Doggy, which puts you in touch with local dog owners looking for someone to walk their dog, keep it for the day or even a weekend.

It’s a great motivation for you to go to the park and get some exercise, and it’s an easy way to meet other dog owners. There are also groups for dog walkers that you can join.

11. Team sports

Walking footballTeam sports are a great way to make friends, because you meet up with the same people on a regular basis. And there are so many that you should be able to find something you enjoy that suits your level of fitness.

Team sports that aren’t too strenuous include boules, bowling, walking football, snooker and table tennis.

12. Food, friends and fun

Contact the Elderly tea partyOne of the best ways to  meet new people and be sociable is over a meal. There are schemes across the country that offer free or inexpensive lunches, coffee mornings and meetups for older people, and some also provide transport. Your council or GP or local Age UK should have information on these kinds of events in your area.

If you’re housebound, Meals on Wheels can provide you with a nutritious hot meal, and in some instances a volunteer will stay and have a chat while you eat it. Their friendly drivers will also check that you are safe and well. 

Social prescribing

It can be hard to find ways to get out there and meet people, but the NHS is beginning to develop schemes for ‘social prescribing’, which focus on your wellbeing.

So if you’re feeling lonely, your GP or other healthcare providers are able to refer you to social groups, community events or peer befriending projects they think you might enjoy. It’s only running in a few areas at the moment, but you could ask your GP about it.

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