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Caring for someone who's lonely

If you look after someone who you think might be suffering from loneliness, take a read through our resources on this page so you can find the best way to help them.

How to spot loneliness

There are 1.2m chronically lonely older people in the UK, so it's likely we all know or care about someone who feels lonely. But it's not always easy to spot the signs. Some clues could include the person:

  • having a significant change in their routine (e.g. getting up a lot later)
  • neglecting their appearance or personal hygiene
  • complaining of feeling worthless
  • not eating properly.

You should also consider if the person you care about has had a change in their circumstances that could have caused their loneliness, such as:

  • losing a loved one
  • moving away from friends and family
  • losing the social contact and enjoyment they used to get from work
  • experiencing health problems that make it difficult for them to go out and do the things they enjoy.

As loneliness is such a deeply personal experience, you may spot signs they are lonely before the person you care about does or before they are able to talk about it. It's also important to remember that someone can still feel lonely despite being surrounded by friends and family.

All Age UKs provide services to combat loneliness. If you know someone who is lonely, contact us for support.

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Why it's important to tackle loneliness

No one should feel they have no one to turn to, but we also know loneliness can have a big impact on our mental and physical health.

Over recent years there has been growing public attention to loneliness in our communities and this has been accompanied by a shift in our understanding of its impact.

We now know that, for example, the effect of loneliness and isolation can be as harmful to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and is more damaging than obesity.

It is associated with depression, sleep problems, impaired cognitive health, heightened vascular resistance, hypertension, psychological stress and mental health problems.

What you can do to help

If you suspect someone you know may be lonely, you can help by:

Being there. Simply being there for the person can let them know that someone cares. Don't be afraid to ask them how they are feeling or if there's anything you can do to help. Having someone who is willing to listen could be a great comfort.

Encourage and support them to get help. Reassure them that it's possible to feel better with the right help. They may need some support to make new social connections or access services designed to tackle loneliness.

Be patient. When people are lonely, particularly if it's associated with poor mental health or physical health, they may get irritable or feel misunderstood by others. You may need to offer gentle assurance.

Take advantage of services that tackle loneliness

If they have sight loss, they can join RNIB’s telephone book club and talk to up to eight people on a monthly call for a small cost.

They might want to consider joining a friendship group. This can be a good way to build new and meaningful friendships, and help them regain their confidence.

Contact the Elderly hold monthly afternoon tea parties for people aged over 75 who live on their own with little or no chance to socialise.

If your loved one is missing the social connections they used to have through work, they could also consider volunteering or perhaps going to classes through The University of the Third Age.

Age UK's befriending services can connect a lonely older person with a volunteer who can visit their home or give them a regular call.

Looking after yourself

When you’re caring for someone it’s easy to overlook your own needs. But looking after your health and making time for yourself can help you feel better and manage better with your caring role.

Read our advice for carers

For more information call Age UK on 0800 055 6112

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