Loneliness has been described as an epidemic, and it affects people of all ages.
For those of us getting into our middle years and beyond, there are life events that can mean we spend increasing amounts of time on our own.
Perhaps partners and friends have started to disappear from our lives, so there are fewer people around to talk to on a regular basis. Some of us choose to give up driving in these impatient, reckless times, which makes getting to people and places a lot harder. Or sometimes our health makes it harder to get out and about generally.
It’s not necessarily a major problem. Some people enjoy their own company greatly. But it’s probably true to say that we prefer our own company if it’s on our own terms. Being forced to be alone can lead to depression.
So, what can we do to avoid feeling lonely? Here are a few ideas.
Getting out by Joining In
Take a look at your local community centre. It’s hard for these centres to lose their outdated image of ‘being for old people’, but today they are actually quite exciting places, offering far more than lunch and bingo. You can find reasonably priced hairdressers, craft sessions, bridge, film screenings and much more. Many can also help you find suitable transport to get you there.
Or how about a crafting group? Libraries, churches and other centres host ‘knit and natter’ afternoons, with the emphasis on nattering. Or there are groups that men might find more appealing, including Men in Sheds, where you can chat while working with tools on projects.
There is a lot to be said for getting involved in groups that have members spanning a wide age range. Spending time with younger people is often energising. And they can be invaluable in explaining the rapidly changing modern world – like who the Kardashians are and why we would want a box set!
Ready for a Kickabout?
If you enjoy being active, there are groups playing walking football and walking netball springing up all over the country.
Contact your local leisure centre or council leisure management department to find out what’s happening locally. They can also point you in the direction of more traditional but still enjoyable activities, such as healthy walks or bowls.
Just Getting Out Raises the Spirits
Even if none of those appeal, it’s still good to get out. Perhaps splashing out on a coffee somewhere that you can watch the world go by, or taking a book to the local park, might be an enjoyable and not too expensive way to spend an hour. Just being out amongst people and taking in that Vitamin D can work wonders.
When you can’t get Out
Being stuck in the house is tedious when you want to be out. There are still ways to keep in contact with the outside world however!
While it’s not wise to let everyone into the home, there are reputable voluntary groups who delight in spending time with people who struggle to leave the house. Try getting in touch with befriending groups or Age UK for national information, or you might find out more from your library, GP surgery or even pharmacy.
There is always the phone. There are ways to keep your phone bill down these days by choosing your provider wisely and signing up to friends and family schemes. It’s true that the people you’d like to call may lead busy lives, but you could always arrange a regular time to talk. You can both put it in your diary and look forward to the call.
Even better than calling is using Skype, Facetime or a similar service that lets you see each other as you talk. If you’re not familiar with the technology, you may have grandchildren or other young friends who would be delighted to show you how it works. You can use these services on a home computer or laptop, a smaller tablet computer (such as the iPad) or a smartphone style of mobile phone.
Finally, how about some online learning? There are many free courses available on the internet, from fiction writing with the Open University to an introduction to forensic science with the University of Strathclyde. If you have a basic understanding of how to use the web, you could join a course and take part in discussion with other students.
Not all of these ideas will suit everybody. Just because we reach a certain age, we don’t suddenly become a homogenous mass of people who behave in similar ways. But maybe there is something here that will help you to stay in touch wherever you spend your time.
Kathy Lawrence is the editor of When They Get Older, the website where family and friends of older people can find useful tips and shared experiences to improve their quality of life.