As we get older, it can be increasingly difficult to maintain the social networks we had in our younger years. Over 2.5 million people over the age of 75 in the UK live alone, and social isolation and loneliness can be a huge problem. The charity helpline for older people, Silver Line, received 300,000 calls in its first year of operation, and in a staggering 50% of these, the caller had nobody else to turn to.
It doesn't have to be that way. There are many small steps you can take, even if you are not in the best of health, to increase and maintain contact with friends and family.
1. Would You Benefit from a Befriending Service?
Many local and national charities run befriending services for older people who live alone; they will put you in touch with a vetted volunteer who will call round to see you and to chat, or to take you to meetings and outings with other people in a similar position.
2. Could You Volunteer?
If you are fit and active, could you offer your services as a volunteer? Most towns have a volunteer co-ordination organisation where they will be delighted to match you to a suitable activity - anything from clearing overgrown gardens to doing the shopping for someone who is housebound. If you have your own transport, you could also offer to be a befriending volunteer yourself, for someone who doesn't find it so easy to get around.
3. Family First
No matter how far flung your family is, it's important to stay in touch. Look into things like Skype if you're worried about phone bills, or email or Facebook if you're worried about intruding into their daily lives. If you're not very computer savvy, ask in your local library - they will be able to help you, or they might run basic computer courses specifically for older people.
4. Would You Like to Learn Something New?
The University of the Third Age is a national organisation whose groups in most towns and cities organise a huge array of courses, workshops, talks and events, specifically for retired people. Community centres, libraries and museums also often run similar courses. What would you like to learn?
5. Fill Your Diary
When you look at the week ahead, do you just see blank days? You can change that! Write in something for each day, even if it's just a walk or a trip to the park. Seeing that there's something for you to do each day will help to make you feel more motivated to create friendship links with others.
If your loneliness is truly getting you down, remember that your GP is there to help too - don't be afraid to let them know how you are feeling.