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How to help an elderly parent with loneliness

Posted on 04/06/2014

We all want to help our parents and look after them in later life, but with busy jobs, children and living in a different part of the country, there are many reasons why we can’t always be there as much as we would like. If you have a parent on their own, especially after the loss of a partner, then loneliness can become a real issue if they spend a lot of time in the house on their own. You can feel helpless to change their situation, but there are things that you can do to help.

1. Stay in touch

The most important thing to do is to make sure that you parent knows you are there for them. Set a regular time to call, so they know when to expect to hear from you and give them a contact number and good times to call if they want a chat (plus information of where to call in case of an emergency, such as a work number). If you live locally, then seeing them in person is important too, so pop in on a regular basis, even if it is only once a week, so that they have some personal contact. Encourage other relatives to get in touch too, such as their grandchildren, so that they see different faces from time to time.

2. Research activities and groups

Encourage your parent to get involved in local community events – this could be a hobby class, a lunch club or a community centre where they can drop in. Having things to do at set times in the week can help to build a routine and break up the day. If they are nervous, then you could always go with them for the first time. There are various charities, such as Age UK, that run local events, so it is worth seeing what is available in your parent’s local area.

3. Don’t forget to write

If you do live away from your parent, then don’t forget that there are other ways to stay in touch apart from the phone. Trying writing letters from yourself or your children so that your parent receives something through the post. You can include little gifts, postcards, photos, DVDs of family videos – anything to let them know that you are thinking of them and to remind them that they have family who care for them.

4. Get them online

If you parent is willing, then you could get them a tablet or a computer and teach them how to get the most out of it. This could be to use video calling as another way to stay in touch, especially if you can’t see them in person as often as you would like. You could also show them how to access websites that they might find interesting to read, join forums to meet likeminded people for a chat, or find some games that they might enjoy. Things like email and instant messaging can give them another way of staying in touch with people too, and is good if they have distant relatives that they can’t get to see.

5. Encourage hobbies

Many older people spend a lot of time at home and this is when loneliness can become a problem, with only the television or the radio for company. Encourage your parent to take up a hobby and give them a purpose. This can be anything from knitting and cooking, to gardening and growing vegetables. There might be classes in the local area to help participate in hobbies like dancing, swimming or fitness as well, which is also a good way of meeting new people.

6. Get some support

If you think that it is important for your parent to have company on a daily or weekly basis and you cannot provide that, then consider getting in some additional support. In some areas there are volunteer organisations where members visit older people in the community and spend time with them or take them out on day trips. There are also some useful phone helplines that give older people a friendly voice when they need it, such as The Silver Line or the Age UK Call in Time Befriending Service. If they need care and support as well as company, then you could consider hiring a paid carer to come in as needed daily. If you hire someone yourself, then you can find a person who will provide good company while also giving a quality service, and won’t be in any rush to move on to another appointment. 

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