Feeling not connected to other people and/or feeling lonely can become problematic as we get older. Feeling lonely is different from living alone, where you might still be connected with your community. These feelings may be due to a number of factors e.g. loss of someone close, moving house, loss of mobility etc. You can have some control over some of your responses e.g. join clubs, maintain a wide circle of friends etc. There are other factors that are beyond your control and spill over into the areas of social policy, housing, transport and poverty.
Since childhood, Western society has instilled in us the value of independence. Whilst there is value in developing self-sufficiency there has perhaps been an over emphasis on independence at the expense of interdependence.
Interdependency stresses the value of relationships. Building relationships builds healthy communities. It is important that people feel that they can participate in their community. Having a sense of belonging and participation in the wider community is crucial for self-esteem and emotional well-being. There are a number of ways that older people can participate in society. Thoughts and suggestions include:
- Talk with your neighbours. Take an interest in what is going on in the area. Join a neighbourhood group. It is sometimes difficult maintaining a balance between neighbourliness and the need for your own privacy. Set the boundaries early on.
- Try volunteering. A good volunteer programme will give you training, ongoing support and value you as one of the team. Volunteering is hugely important in economic terms to the country, not to mention social terms. You will be doing the country a favour! Take care however that you don’t get overloaded. You can even volunteer from your own home. Programmes such as the St John Caring Caller allow you to be involved in the community from the comfort of your own home. For more information phone 0800 000 606. When you leave any volunteer position it is not your responsibility to find a replacement.
- Break down the stereotypes. Sometimes the things we stop doing are because we think it doesn’t ‘fit’ our age group. Many older people are prepared to push the boundaries these days. Just look at the number of people who now go to the ‘gym’, participate in the Masters Games, have become computer experts, or taken up travel etc.
- Balance rest, leisure and activity. Take time to keep up with reading, going to movies with friends, attending clubs, going to concerts etc. If transport is a problem you may be able to link in with others by car pooling, sharing taxi/van costs, use a companion driving service, you may also be eligible for Total Mobility taxi vouchers etc.
- Contact your local rest home. Sometimes you can join in with their activities, outings and special events. Residents may also enjoy a visit; particularly those who have few.
- You might like to consider getting a pet if you don’t have one. There has been considerable research into the link between loneliness and the keeping of a pet. It has been suggested that having a pet helps meet some psychological needs. ‘Walking the dog’ is often a great way to meet new people.
- Not seeing family and friends as frequently as you would like can be disappointing. Try to make the contact you do have with them as positive as possible. People are more likely to repeat positive experiences.
- Many older people are taking an active role in grand parenting. The changing nature of paid work does however impact on all family members. New patterns seem to be emerging that show that many grandparents are now looking after their grandchildren whilst the parents work. This doesn’t mean that grandparents are prepared to be ‘used’ whenever requested. Many older people want to, and need to, maintain a life of their own. Responsibilities and rights of older people can therefore become a bit of a ‘juggling act’.
- If you are the sort of person who likes joining a group find out if there are any in your area that you could be interested in. Citizens Advice, some Age Concern offices and the Neighbourly website can tell you what’s happening in your area. Many seniors groups that represent older people are also working hard to ensure that images of older people are positive. The way others perceive older people impacts greatly on how older people feel about themselves. If you have the inclination, these groups would value your support.
- Spiritually – Connectedness with a greater power is very important for many people. This may be in the form of a quiet, contemplative, self-expression, or more formalised such as belonging to a church group. Some studies suggest that there are stages of faith and that this is ever changing and growing. For some people the later years of life can be a time of questioning for others it may be experiencing a more encompassing view of faith. Whatever your experience is, it may be helpful to view this as part of the journey of life.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for support. In many areas the St John Caring Caller service (0800 000 606) can arrange for someone to ring you each day to have a chat and check that all is well. Services such as Citizens Advice Bureaux can direct you to other appropriate agencies and groups.
Click here to find community groups in your area.