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How to combat loneliness in older age

Are you feeling lonely? You're not the only one. According to research we did in partnership with the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, almost three-quarters of older people in the UK are lonely and more than half of those have never spoken to anyone about how they feel. Disover ways to feel less isolated...

This way for regular relationship advice...


lonely older woman 

Feeling lonely? l I have no friendsLoneliness and depression
 What to do when you feel lonely


The stigma of loneliness and isolation

Despite this being a widespread issue, no one really wants to admit to being lonely. Our research showed that 56% of those who said they're lonely say they've never spoken about their loneliness to anyone and 71% say that their friends and family would be astonished to hear that they feel this way. We don't want to be a burden to our family and friends and most certainly don't want anyone's pity.

But being isolated is something we need to address. We are by nature social animals. We are programmed to need to feel part of something - a community, a network, a part of something bigger than ourselves. 

Tweet this: "56% of those who said they’re lonely say they’ve never spoken about it with anyone else."


Feeling lonely? 

In today's fast-paced world, busy-ness is often prioritised over personal connections. Families are under more pressure financially and may well live far away from each other. Many of our members are long-distance grandparents, with family and grandchildren living as far away as Australia, Canada and the US. Skype, FaceTime and even Facebook are all wonderful ways of staying in touch more easily, but it's not quite the same as having them in the same room, is it? Still, it's great to be able to interact via screen rather than over a bad phone connection.   


Ill health or disabilities leading to loneliness

Growing in age, sadly, also takes a toll on our bodies and minds. Some of us find ourselves isolated because we simply aren't able to leave the house without a massive effort or help from someone else. In these situations an online 24/7 community like the forums on Gransnet can be a huge help. There is always someone online and it's very likely you'll find a new friend ready and willing to offer you advice, support, a laugh - or even a virtual hug.


Coping with loneliness in retirement

"I think the popular press would have us believe that retirement is all beer and skittles but for many people it isn't like that and there is a void."

While some people take to retirement like a duck to water, others take a little longer to adjust.

"When I retired I lost touch with the people I'd worked with and we have no contact now."

Yes, lie-ins are lovely but not having an everyday routine or regular interaction with work colleagues and friends, can leave you feeling isolated. Some gransnetters even admit to missing their bosses! Their advice is to embrace the freedom as much as you can, get rid of your watch - you've got nothing to be late for! - and take a little time to try and discover the things you actually like (rather than have) to do.

"I seem to have run out of friends since I retired. It's a sad fact of life that as we get older, people we know die, or move, and circles crumble for one reason or another. My husband and I are rather joined at the hip these days, and I keep saying I will join something just to have an outside interest, but I'm dragging my feet at getting round to it."

"Where I lived before I had a few local friends made through work. Without the common ground of work and geography though our lives are understandably drifting along different paths."

feeling lonely

"Retirement comes as a massive shock to the system. Let's just get out there and find out what others are doing. And let's join them if we can. (And thank goodness for the internet)."

"For so much of my life my work has defined me and I'm concerned I'll feel lost without it.”


Feeling lonely in a relationship

For some people, retirement also means suddenly spending more time with a partner which can throw up all sorts of issues. Gransnetters know only too well about the dreaded 'retired husband syndrome' and the curse of the 'grumpy old man'. Sometimes retirement puts a strain on marriage because it highlights issues such as a lack of shared interests or conflicting retirement expectations - issues which can make both partners feel very lonely in the marriage.

Our research revealed that 9% of people feel lonely in the company of people with whom they no longer connect, whether it's a partner or family.

As with most things, it's usually an adjustment period, and once you've both found your new roles and got used to seeing more of each other than before, gransnetters report that things do get easier. 


Bereavement or divorce

arguing coupleOf course, some people have lost their beloved (even if they were grumpy old men) and coming to terms with bereavement (or indeed divorce) can be extremely difficult at a time when you thought you'd have all the time in the world together. 

"My husband was my best friend and I lost him to cancer. I volunteer, go to groups etc but I think you just have to accept that things will never be the same again."

Talking to family, friends, organisations such as Relate or even others on Gransnet who are in similar positions can be incredibly helpful.  

I have no friends

"I think we all believe we are the only ones without friends but that is obviously not the case."

Whatever the reason - bereavement, relocation, retirement, a falling out or social phobia - not having any close friends is more common than you may think, especially when you're older. 'Making friends' is hard work and some people are just less skilled at turning acquaintances into friends.

"I'm glad I'm not the only one with either none or very few friends - I was beginning to think it was just me. I've come to the conclusion that I have forgotten how to make friends as I know I can make conversation with anyone and frequently do, but it's making the next step that I struggle with."

"I have no real friends. I can chat and get on with people, but I have no idea how that transforms into a friendship."

"I have long felt that there's something wrong with me. I always feel as if I am on the outside looking in, which can be quite uncomfortable."

"This is a really common problem and it is more difficult to make new friends as you get a bit older."

If you feel that you have no real friends either, you are not alone. There are many people who feel like that - have a look at this discussion about having no real friends to see just how many people are in the same boat - and who might be able to help you feel better. 

"Stuff happens, people move, change, get involved, follow different paths. There shouldn't be any reason to feel embarrassed to say 'I've not got a close friend, but I would like one'. "


Discover new ways to make friends...


Loneliness and depression

"It is important to remember that depression is an illness. Just because other people can't see it doesn't make it any less corrosive than, say, cancer (and I am a cancer survivor!)."

It won't come as a surprise to many that loneliness has been identified as a major risk factor for depression. Being on the receiving end of love gives people the opportunity to discuss their mental health condition and ask for help. If they are alone, this opportunity doesn't exist and they may have no way of finding a way out. So what can you do? If you feel yourself becoming depressed, it's important to tell someone. Don't bottle it up and hope you'll feel better in the morning. Britons have a reputation for keeping a stiff upper lip which prevents us from seeking help when we need it. Friends, family members or GPs are there to listen and advise, and there is no shame in receiving treatment for what is a very real and common illness. 


Signs and symptoms

What are the signs or symptoms you need to look out for if you think you, a loved one, or even a neighbour might be depressed? Physical symptoms may be more obvious and may include:

  • fluctuations in weight
  • loss of appetite
  • fatigue
  • restless sleep or insomnia

Emotional symptoms may manifest themselves in:

  • difficulty concentrating
  • feeling tearful
  • feelings of guilt and/or hopelessness
  • feeling irritable

Be aware of yourself and those around you and if you notice these symptoms, don't be afraid to talk about it and seek help. If you're want to find out more, then do look at our in-depth guide to depression for more information.


What to do when you feel lonely

The first thing to do is to realise that you are not alone in your loneliness. Here are just a few steps that other gransnetters have found worked for them: 


Step 1: Routine

Unanimously the advice on Gransnet is to set a daily routine. It needn't be onerous and there's no need to overfill your diary, but starting the day at roughly the same time and getting the usual morning routines out the way early is one way to stop inertia setting in. 


Step 2: Start your Monday on a positive note

mindful mondayGetting the week off to a productive start is the best way of setting a positive tone for the rest of the week. Even if you falter by Thursday, at least you will have accomplished something early on. Put a note in the diary - be it a course, an appointment, afternoon gardening or a lunch out - and stick to it. 


Step 3: Make friends

Of course no one's going to replace the old ones, but if circumstance means they're not round the corner anymore, you're going to need someone else to share that cake with on a more regular basis. Read our helpful page on making friends later in lifehave a look at our meet-up forum and find your Gransnet Local site to see if there are meet-ups, classes or other events happening in your local area - or post one yourself and take it from there...

"I have just joined a knit and natter group in my local library in an attempt to make friends."

"I've found the best way is to 'join things' whether that be WI, U3A or a keep-fit class. You also have to persevere, no good giving up because people don't talk to you. Sometimes it's not because they are unfriendly, but that they are just shy and need encouragement. I've noticed that dog walkers seem to make a lot of friends quite easily."

Step 4: Learn something new

Where to start? From local classes, to U3A talks and free online courses, there's no end to ways to fill your time. Take a look at 10 ways to keep your mind sharp with suggestions ranging from language classes to ancestry and Tai Chi.

"I recommend joining U3A. All my closest friends are dead now so when I moved to my new town I felt quite isolated. I've since met lots of new people, go to interesting talks and I so enjoyed one of the study groups that I decided to do a degree in that subject. I am now going to college part-time and meeting lots of interesting people young and older."

The following organisations also offer classes and discussions that might be of interest:

"I've recently joined my local U3A group in an attempt to meet new friends. I'm kicking myself that I didn't do it years ago! There are so many topics of interest that you're bound to find something you like. Try it, it's opened up loads of new interests for me and I've met so many new people."


Step 5: Volunteer

There are loads of opportunities to help out in your local community. Be that at a charity shop, for an animal shelter, your local community centre etc. 

"Volunteering is a good way of making friends and being sociable, both with other volunteers and with customers."

"I haven't got much talent for small talk, but working alongside others there is always a topic of conversation and a sense of shared purpose.


Step 6: Go online

“I never dreamed I would use this kind of 'social network’ - but knowing there are people out there who have given thought to my predicament gives me a warm feeling. I am surprised too, it’s made me feel less alone.”

While online friendships will never replace the intimacy of face to face interactions, Gransnet community members recount time and time again about how helpful talking on the forums has been for them. 59% of those surveyed say social media helps them feel less lonely and 82% say that talking about feeling lonely is much easier when you’re anonymous and online. In response to this, we've recently launched the Gransnet Cafe, a place on the forums specifically for those in need of a virtual cuppa and supportive ear to pop on for advice, support, or simply to chat.


"I do feel very lonely sometimes but Gransnet helps."


"I have a few lovely ladies on Gransnet who I write to and can confide in."


"Locally I've got people that I stop and chat to, but I wouldn't class them as friends. I think I really prefer talking to people on Gransnet because we get into detailed discussions and you can find which ones you really relate to."


In addition to the wealth of online dating sites also available to those over 50, Find Companionship is a site that allows you to make new connections in your local area and focuses on companionship rather than romantic relationships.


Step 7: Keep active

The benefits of exercise later in life can not be over-emphasized. There's no need to run a marathon or necessarily join a gym either. We've got some great, easy ideas on how to build exercise into your daily routines such as dog walking. It can be a great way to meet new people too.

"It is very hard when no one seems to care, but, and I am my own worst enemy for this, you have to force yourself to go out and mingle a bit. If you can. Having a dog helps meet so many people - what was supposed to be a five minute excursion often turns into an hour of chatting, laughing and bonding. Dog walkers are always willing to stop and chat I find."


Should I move to feel less isolated?

If you are very close to your family, the temptation to follow them across the country (or indeed, globe) can be a strong one. For some this works very well and it can tie in nicely with a need to downsize, but there are some unforeseen complications that could arise. If you are considering moving closer to your grandchildren, here are a few things you might want to consider first.

skype grandchildren


What can I do to feel less lonely at night?

Nighttime can be the worst for those of us who suffer from loneliness. You're alone with your thoughts, there aren't any easy distractions, and you don't want to bother anyone at such a time so the ability to reach out for help isn't there. You're also probably tired from the day so tackling the feelings of loneliness or depression head-on can feel too much for you.

So what can you do to feel less lonely? The first thing to do is address the reason you can't get to sleep, if insomnia is the issue. If the usual reading a book or having a warm drink doesn't work, there are plenty of other natural sleep remedies you can try, as recommended by gransnetters.

Trying to decipher if there is anything bothering you is another thing to tackle this issue. Sometimes we're aware of a niggle, an imagined slight, a forgotten birthday, yet our brain refuses to acknowledge it outright, and we merely feel like something is out of kilter. Confronting these issues and accepting that we can or can't change them will help with peace of mind and hopefully a better night's sleep.


How do you cope with loneliness?

Have you come up with a good strategy for dealing with feelings of loneliness? If all else fails, know that there is always someone to chat to on the Gransnet forums - even at 2am - and of course organisations like the Silverline offer helplines at all hours too. 

And remember... "Alone does not have to mean lonely, it can mean being able to please yourself about when, how and where you spend your time."


Other helpful organisations










Images: Shutterstock











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