As children and in our younger years, meeting new people and making new friends is often part of everyday life; starting or changing schools, doing hobbies, working or generally socialising all mean coming across new people who often soon become new friends.
But for some older people, opportunities to meet and make new friends may be fewer and further between. In fact, according to research released earlier this year conducted by the Campaign to End Loneliness in partnership with YouGov, over half of UK adults feel it’s been a long time since they made a new friend or a valued connection.
Of the adults who took part in the poll, 49% said that their busy lives stopped them from connecting with other people, with work (63%) and chores (65%) cited as the top reasons.
For older people, poor health, loss of mobility or difficulty finding or accessing new activities where there might be like-minded people can be part of the problem. People who start to become isolated may also then start to lose confidence when it comes to getting out and breaking the ice with someone new; this is when loneliness can start to creep in.
The poll also revealed that 8 in 10 UK adults believe that the UK is divided. However, 82% of those who think there is a division also agree that small moments of connection, such as making small talk on the bus or smiling at people, can break down divisions. Almost 88% of people agree that small moments of connection like these are a valuable way of tackling loneliness.
Laura Alcock-Ferguson, Executive Director of the Campaign to End Loneliness, said:
“Loneliness and isolation are on the rise, and people fear the UK is divided. But our research shows that the majority of people believe that small moments of connection, that anyone can get involved with, are valuable. They can tackle loneliness, break down divisions and bring people together.
“Over three-quarters (79%) of people who think there is a division in society agree that if we made more time to connect, we’d be less divided. Even in our busy lives, we can all do something…”
The Campaign to End Loneliness aims to end isolation and connect communities. They campaign nationally to inspire thousands of organisations and people to do more to tackle loneliness and work at a local level in all four nations across the UK.
Feeling lonely can be short-term, or it can go on for a long time. The Campaign to End Loneliness stresses that it is useful to think positively about doing something to help yourself out of isolation, while remembering not to blame yourself for feeling this way.
The first step to combating loneliness is to recognise it, in yourself or in someone you know. If you can do this, you can then start to think about what you might do to tackle it; you could consider inviting friends or family to visit or look into local groups and activities that might interest you, such as walking, singing, bridge or book groups. Contact the Elderly and the University of the Third Age have a wide range of local social groups and activities across the UK.
Doing something to improve your health is also a positive step. For example, making small changes to improve your diet and taking gentle, regular exercise can help you relax, feel better and increase your confidence.
Long term loneliness could contribute to depression and other health problems. If you feel loneliness is getting out of control, your GP should be able to direct you to local services that can help.
For more information on the Campaign to End Loneliness, visit: www.campaigntoendloneliness.org.
If you are an older person in need of information, friendship or advice, you can call The Silver Line, the 24 hour, free and confidential helpful for older people, on: 0800 4 70 80 90 or visit: www.thesilverline.org.uk.