Tips to avoid social isolation as an older person

Staying socially connected as you get older can help your physical and mental wellbeing.

You may have times in your life when you have less social contact. For example, you may have lost a spouse or friends, retired or don’t have access to easy transport. You also might be staying at home because you’re unwell or isolating with COVID-19.

In these situations it can be easy to slip into social isolation. This occurs when you regularly lack connection with friends, whānau and your community. Being alone a lot can be bad for your physical and mental health, so it’s important for you to make and keep up your social connections.

 Image credit: 123rf

Here are a few tips to help you reduce your social isolation:

1. Reconnect with whānau and friends

Reply to an email, ring someone for a chat or arrange to meet up for a coffee. If you have problems getting around, ask them to pop in and visit – as long as you and they are feeling well. If you can't get out as much as you used to, or you're isolating, technology can be a big help. Try texting or having a video chat with friends and loved ones, and keep it up regularly.

2. Take small steps to be around other people

Go to a café or the shops and smile and make small talk with the cashier, other customers and so on. Wave or smile at your neighbours, and offer to share some cuttings or excess produce from your garden. Chances are, you'll strike up a conversation and get to know one another.

3. Join a club or group

Get involved in something that interests you – a book club, a craft group, a walking group or an exercise class like aqua fitness. If you have always wanted to travel, there are plenty of groups that cater for older clients so get in touch with your local travel agent to discover some exciting options. Another way to meet new people is by volunteering your time to a cause or charity you support. Many parts of Aotearoa New Zealand have an active Neighbourly group enabling you to meet the people living around you in a safe and secure way. Doing something you enjoy with other people who also enjoy it is a good way of meeting people with common interests. Hopefully some of them will become friends.

4. Move through the awkwardness

It may feel awkward at first to chat to people you already know but have lost touch with, as well as with new people you meet. If so, brush up on some easy conversation starters to help you find things to chat about. You may also want to try socialising in smaller groups. A coffee date with one person might feel easier than a large club meeting.

5. Find activities in your community

Check out resources and programmes at your local i-SITE information centre, Age Concern, library, community centre, café or Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB). You can also browse through your local community newspapers to see what activities are happening near you. Older adults can use their SuperGold card to travel at many times of the day.

6. Keep learning

Enrol in an online or in-person course, learn te reo or another new language, or attend a talk or seminar in your community. FutureLearn have hundreds of free online courses and even some with a New Zealand focus.

7. Be patient and keep trying

It can take several conversations before you make a new friend. Don’t give up – the rewards will be worth it.

8. Reach out for support

If you're isolating because of COVID, read our tips on how to how to stay connected. If you can't go far, or are in need of a friend, Age Concernruns an accredited visitor service providing regular visits to older Auckland-based people who would like more company, to reduce social isolation and loneliness. St John runs a caring caller service where volunteers call people to check on them and provide a bit of conversation. 

References

  1. Dementia – preventing social isolation, Office for Seniors Te Tari Kaumātua, NZ
  2. 5 ways to sharpen your social skills after isolation, AARP, US, 2021
  3. Social isolation, Office for Seniors Te Tari Kaumātua, NZ
  4. Accredited visitor service Age Concern Auckland, 2022
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team. Last reviewed: 17 Oct 2022