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Guide to Combating Loneliness in Old Age

Loneliness in old age is unfortunately very common in the UK. Here are some statistics that demonstrate just how widespread the issue is.

1.4 million older people in the UK are often lonely

This statistic tells us that loneliness is a very common experience among older people; it is not something that affects just one societal group, such as people who live alone or people who are widowed.

The fact that these 1.4 million older people are ‘often’ lonely tells us that they experience loneliness more often than not, and therefore old age loneliness is a serious problem in the UK (1).

Older people who live alone are more likely to be in hospital

You may have heard that one of the effects of loneliness is physical illness, and this is supported by statistics showing that older people who live alone are much more likely to be in hospital than younger people (2).

They are 50% more likely to be in A&E than people who do not live alone, they have more long-term health conditions, and they are more likely to visit their GP each month.

We do have to keep in mind that older people who live alone may require medical attention more often as they do not have anyone to care for them at home. However, it remains likely that their loneliness is contributing to their higher frequency of GP and hospital visits.

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More than a million older people go at least a month without talking to anyone

The experience of loneliness is subjective; one person may report feeling lonely often despite living with people and socialising often, and another may only begin to feel lonely when they have gone days without seeing anyone.

There is no shame in feeling lonely even when you are surrounded by people. However, it is particularly concerning that over a million older people go at least a month without talking to anyone, as they are not receiving adequate support if this is their situation (3).

It is essential that we talk to people to keep our loneliness at bay, even if this is a short weekly phone call with a friend or a chat to our partner each evening. To go a month without seeing anyone is very dangerous for our mental health, as it could cause us to feel isolated, anxious and depressed.

The loneliest older people are in poor health, live alone, are unable to do the things they want, do not have anyone to open up to, or are widowed

Though any older person can experience loneliness at any time, there is an increased risk of loneliness for people who experience any of the above situations (4). This means we should focus on providing support to anyone who relates to these scenarios.

People who are widowed, who live alone, have no one to talk to, and cannot do the things they want, are likely to feel lonely as they are less likely to be socialising on a regular basis. They may also feel as though they cannot relate to others, so they may struggle to connect with people (though many can and do).

As for people with health conditions, they may face more challenges when it comes to leaving the house and taking part in social activities, which can cause them to spend lots of time alone.

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Women are more likely than men to feel lonely

Studies show that women are more likely to experience chronic loneliness than men. One reason for female loneliness in old age is that women live longer than men on average. The average life expectancy in the UK (2018-20) is 79 years for men, and 82.9 years for women (5).

This means women are more likely to be widowed than men, and this is one of the main causes of loneliness in old age. Widows who live alone and do not have a strong support system may not have contact with others for long periods of time, leading to social isolation and loneliness.

Another potential reason that old age loneliness is more common in the female population is that women tend to form very close, intimate friendships over casual friendships. This means that they may have fewer friends, and if they lose these friends, the loneliness hits them harder.

We also have to take into account the fact that men may feel ashamed admitting their loneliness, as they have largely been raised to keep their feelings in. This means male loneliness in old age is most likely higher than statistics suggest.

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Which Factors Contribute to Loneliness in Old Age?

Everyone experiences loneliness from time to time, so there is not always one specific cause for loneliness in old age. However, there are some factors that influence loneliness, such as:

1. Living alone

It goes without saying that there is a strong association between loneliness and living alone. When you live with people, you are guaranteed to get some interaction each day, even if it is surface level.

However, when living alone, you could go weeks or even months without having a conversation with anyone. If you are in good health (physically and mentally), you could ease this by having small talk with people in your area, but if not, you may be confined to your home for longer than you would like.

2. Living far from family

People who live close to their family in their later years tend to feel less lonely, as they get to see people on a regular basis. If their family visits them every week, for example, they get to look forward to the visit day, and they can rely on this as a break from the loneliness they feel.

What’s more, being able to rely on family for practical help can make you less lonely, as you know that you have people who care about you. For example, it can be great for your mental health to have family who will pick up medication for you, do a food shop for you, or go on walks with you.

On the other hand, elderly individuals who live far from family may miss out on all of these experiences. They may also feel as though they are not a priority for their family, which can trigger feelings of loneliness and depression, or make existing loneliness and depression worse.

3. Financial troubles

We’ve all heard that money can’t buy happiness, and while that may be true, life can certainly be more difficult when you don’t have enough money to fund your lifestyle.

Struggling with money can cause you to spend more time inside, and have less contact with people, which can lead to loneliness. It can also cause you to experience anxiety and depression, which may lead to social isolation.

Finally, if you are struggling to make ends meet, it is harder to implement solutions to feeling less lonely. For example, you may not be able to get involved with hobbies you enjoy, or travel to see family and friends.

Old age poverty has long been an issue in the UK, but it is more common than ever with the cost-of-living crisis. People are staying in as much as they can to avoid spending money, which is leading to a widespread social isolation problem.

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4. Health issues

Older people are more vulnerable to many different health conditions, including heart disease and high blood pressure. As for the psychological side, we cannot ignore the serious elderly depression problem, which comes with decreased social contact and emotional loneliness.

When you have health issues in old age, it is much harder for you to get out and about, so you may find yourself spending more time inside on your own. If this is not what you want to be doing, it can make you feel incredibly lonely.

This can be exacerbated if your loved ones are all in good health, as you may have to watch your social network enjoying themselves together while you have to prioritise your physical health and stay at home more.

Unfortunately, we have seen loneliness rates increase since the coronavirus outbreak, as the elderly had to protect themselves from the virus. Now, there is more opportunity for these people to immerse themselves back into society.

5. Retirement

When older people are working, they often interact with people every weekday for most of the day, so they do not need to put in as much effort to get out and meet people. However, when they retire, they may struggle to see people on a regular basis, as they cannot rely on the familiar structure of work.

Loneliness in retirement is very common for this reason. It is a particularly serious issue if people do not have much money saved for retirement, and therefore they have to focus on saving money, and potentially missing out on social opportunities.

Retirement does not have to be a pathway to loneliness if you are proactive in staying social. We always recommending planning ahead for retirement while you are still working, and this includes both financial and social preparation.

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Guide to Combating Loneliness in Old Age – Our Top 10 Tips

Below, we outline 10 tips for combating loneliness in old age:

1. Talk to someone about how you’re feeling

The most important thing you can do to combat loneliness and social isolation is to open up to someone about your feelings of loneliness. This is often the first step in changing your situation, as it stops you from being in denial about how unhappy you are.

When you speak to a loved one about your loneliness, they will be able to provide you with emotional support, which reminds you that you have people who love and care for you. They may also be able to provide practical support, such as arranging to see you once a week or helping you get to appointments.

2. Make a new schedule

You cannot make a new schedule overnight, but you could start to think about how you would like your daily life to look, and begin to put together a schedule to follow. You do not have to follow a schedule rigidly, but it is good to have a structure to fall back on when you have a difficult day.

To kickstart this, you may want to start looking at activities that are on in your local area, messaging loved ones to see which days are best for them to catch up, and setting times to go for daily walks for your mental and physical well-being.

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3. Find out about support in your community

If you live in a busy area, there will be a wide range of activities you can participate in every week. You could find out about these by looking online, asking your neighbours, or heading to a community centre or senior centre in town to see what’s on. Even if you live in a village, there are likely to be some activities on each week.

There may even be support available for older people, such as coffee meet-ups or befriending charities, which means you could access the exact support you need at no cost.

This would also be a great way to get to know other people in your community, and once you meet them at a group, you could start inviting them to do things with you outside of the group. This is a great way to start building a social support network in your area and reduce the pervasive feeling of loneliness.

4. Volunteer

The discussion of loneliness in elderly adults often comes with recommendations to make the most of charities, as we have suggested above. However, have you considered being a volunteer yourself?

If you are well enough, this would be a great opportunity to put yourself out there, make friends, and make a difference in your community.

There are many websites listing volunteering opportunities across the UK. By using a site such as Do IT, you can find out how to help in your area. The great thing about volunteering is you can start small and build it up, so you don’t have to make a big commitment if you are unsure whether it is something you would like to do long-term.

5. Get professional help

Even if we make plenty of changes to our current situation, we may still be left feeling lonely. This is because loneliness can be linked to mental health problems, and therefore it sometimes needs to be treated before we can feel at ease.

We recommend finding a therapist who uses cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), as they will be able to help you unpack your loneliness and work out how to manage it. This is likely to reduce your emotional pain and stress levels and boost your energy levels over time. stress levels and boost your energy levels over time.

If you cannot afford therapy for loneliness, you can go to your GP and ask to be put on a waiting list for NHS-funded therapy. In the meantime, find out whether there are any mental health resources in your area, and use free online resources such as Kooth – an anonymous counselling service.

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6. Make the most of the internet

The online world has its flaws, but it comes in handy when you want to find out how to get involved in your local community. You could try searching for local activities, joining Facebook groups, and participating in forums to get to know friendly locals.

You don’t even need to stick to your local area to do this. You could join an online community and find people who are similar to you, which can reduce your loneliness significantly. Websites like mumsnet help people to connect by encouraging discussion, and you do not have to be a mother to participate.

However, make sure you are cautious when using the internet. Avoid giving your personal details away, research common scams, and perhaps ask a loved one for help if you do not usually spend time online.

7. Set manageable goals

We do not want to overwhelm you with our guide to combating loneliness in old age. Remember that implementing these tips takes time, and you may not end up incorporating each and every suggestion we have provided.

It is a better use of your time and energy to set small, manageable goals. For example, rather than committing to getting to know everyone on your street, start by focusing on one neighbour and inviting them for a coffee.

Another idea is instead of pushing yourself to be outside every single day, pick three days and find a reason to get out and about on those days.

8. Keep a diary

Keeping a diary can help you to feel less lonely as it gives you a place to offload your negative feelings, and it can feel like you are talking to someone. It also allows you to look back on your moods, which can help you to figure out patterns in your loneliness.

For instance, if you notice you feel lonelier on weekdays, and this is when you spend more time alone, you could start to schedule more events mid-week to improve your mental health.

9. Exercise often

We know that many older people are not able to exercise as much as they would like, due to health issues. If you are in good health, we encourage you to make the most of this by staying as active as possible.

You could make this a social occasion by joining exercise groups, but even if you do it alone, your mood may improve over time.

If you are not able to engage in intense physical activity, keep in mind that even walking is great for your physical and mental health. The most important thing is that you are moving a bit each day, even if that simply means cleaning once a week and walking outside for just five minutes a day.

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10. Get busy at home

Finally, though we recommend getting out as much as you can, there are ways to improve the time you spend at home. If you tend to do the same things every day, you may feel lonelier as time seems to pass slowly.

To combat this, you could try to make changes in your everyday routine. Some examples are: starting a hobby you can do from home (drawing, reading, painting etc), inviting more people to your home, and changing what you eat.

These are small changes, but they can help you to get out of a rut. When you change your routine, you might be inspired to make bigger changes, if you notice that you feel happier and less lonely after altering how you spend your days.


[1] Loneliness research and resources

[2] Older people living alone are 50% more likely to visit A&E than those who live with others

[3] Loneliness in older people

[4] All the Lonely People: Loneliness in Later Life – Age UK

[5] National life tables – life expectancy in the UK: 2018 to 2020

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