Older people are especially vulnerable to loneliness and social isolation – and it can have a serious effect on health. But there are ways to overcome loneliness, even if you live alone and find it hard to get out.
Hundreds of thousands of elderly people are lonely and cut off from society, especially those over the age of 75.
People can become socially isolated for a variety of reasons, such as getting older or weaker, no longer being the hub of their family, leaving the workplace, the deaths of spouses and friends, or through disability or illness.
Whatever the cause, it's shockingly easy to be left feeling alone and vulnerable, which can lead to depression and a serious decline in physical health and wellbeing.
Someone who's lonely probably also finds it hard to reach out. There's a stigma surrounding loneliness, and older people tend not to ask for help because they have a lot of pride.
It's important to remember loneliness can – and does – affect anyone, of any age. Here are some ways for older people to connect with others and feel useful and appreciated again.
Smile, even if it feels hard
Grab every chance to smile at others or begin a conversation – for instance, with the cashier at the shop or the person next to you in the doctors waiting room. If you're shy or not sure what to say, try asking people about themselves.
Invite friends for tea
If you're feeling down and alone, it's tempting to think nobody wants to visit you. But often friends, family and neighbours will appreciate receiving an invitation to come and spend some time with you.
Keep in touch by phone
Having a chat with a friend or relative over the phone can be the next best thing to being with them.
Learn to love computers
If your friends and family live far away, a good way to stay in touch, especially with grandchildren, is by using a personal computer or tablet (a handheld computer).
You can share emails and photos with family and friends, have video chats using free online services, and make new online "friends" or reconnect with old friends on social media sites and website forums.
A tablet computer can be especially useful if you can't get around very easily, as you can sit with it on your knee or close to hand and the screen is clear and bright. A sponge-tip stylus pen or speech recognition may help if the touchscreen is difficult for arthritic hands or fingers with poor circulation.
Libraries and community centres often hold regular training courses for older people to learn basic computer skills – as well as being a good place to meet and spend time with others in their own right.
Get involved in local community activities
These will vary according to where you live, but the chances are you'll have access to a singing or walking group, book clubs, bridge, bingo, quiz nights and faith groups.
Not to mention local branches of regional and national organisations that hold social events.
Fill your diary
It can help you feel less lonely if you plan the week ahead and put things in your diary to look forward to each day, such as a walk in the park, going to a local coffee shop, library, sports centre, cinema or museum.
Get out and about
Don't wait for people to come and see you – travel to visit them.
An advantage of being older is that public transport costs less. The age at which you can apply for your free bus pass depends on when you were born and where you live. Contact your local authority for more information on how to apply.
For longer distances, train and coach travel can be cheap, too, especially if you book in advance online.
Use the knowledge and experience you've gained over a lifetime to give something back to your community. You'll get lots back in return, such as new skills and confidence – and, hopefully, some new friends, too. There are endless volunteering opportunities that relish the qualities and skills of older people, such as patience, experience and calmness.