Can going online help combat loneliness?
Overcoming challenges The online community can provide contact for those who feel isolation in times of need. Advice and guidance is available, and social media is playing an ever greater part in connecting the elderly.
Whilst loneliness continues to be one of the biggest problems facing the elderly, going online can help.
"Nearly 40% say they often go an entire day without speaking to anyone."
Earlier this year, we did a survey on behalf of the Jo Cox Loneliness Commission. The results were staggering. Almost three quarters of participants said they felt lonely some, or all, of the time and 39% saying that sometimes an entire day goes past without speaking to anyone.
Why aren't people talking about being lonely?
There is a stigma attached to loneliness and isolation. Over half of those surveyed said they'd never spoken to anyone about how they feel and 71% said their friends and family would be surprised or astonished to hear that they feel this way.
Is loneliness only an older people's problem?
Most people would agree that you can feel lonely at any time of your life: school playtimes, leaving home to study, starting a new job, or moving somewhere new. However, 59% say they feel lonelier now than they did when they were younger? So what are the most common factors causing this and are they more likely to affect those of us in later life?
What triggers loneliness?
1. Unsurprisingly, bereavement is one major life event that impacts our feelings of loneliness and while certainly not the exclusive experience of older people, it is something we all experience more of in later life.
2. Second on the list is retirement. As much as some of us might long for the days of not being woken up by an alarm clock or not having a boss to answer to, for many people, their careers are part and parcel of who they are and they struggle to come to terms with this side of their lives disappearing overnight. "So much of my life my work has defined me and I'm concerned I'll feel lost without it.” No longer having colleagues to chat to and missing out on work social events is another thing to come to terms with. On top of this, many people find retirement can put a strain on their relationships at home as they adjust to spending more time together.
3. Empty nest syndrome is another factor with many people saying they felt lonely when their children left home. ""I realised it wasn't missing the person, as much as wondering what my own place in life would now be. I felt made redundant."
So, what is the solution?
If you are lonely there is plenty of advice out there including:
- join a social group
- start a new hobby
- make an effort to stay in touch with family and friends
Realistically though, if you are very shy, isolated, disabled or not able to get around very easily, this may not always be practical.
The role of social media
Social media is often accused of causing social isolation with much-hyped pictures of screen-obsessed teenagers in darkened rooms losing all their social skills and communicating only in emojis and weird acronyms. But there can be huge positives to being online too.
Ofcom recently released a report on the rise of 'social seniors' showing that nearly half of those aged 65-74 now have a social media profile. Indeed, 59% of respondents in the Gransnet survey said that social media actually helped them feel less lonely and 82% said that talking about feeling lonely is much easier when you’re anonymous and online.
Being able to admit to feeling lonely is the first step and people do find that once they've received the acknowledgement and support from an online community, they feel more able to approach their GP or friends and family to talk about how they are feeling.
Loneliness needn't be the epidemic it is and it's up to all of us to help address it in any way we can including making people aware of the wonderful resources out there including Age UK centres, helplines like the Silverline and online communities such as Gransnet.