Dealing with isolation

We are living in a generation where there are parents raising children while caring for their own parents.

The role of being a parent or guardian comes with a number of challenges. This is more so nowadays, when parents may have double caring responsibilities for children and their own parents. It can be difficult to find time together as a couple or to do things for themselves. However, for some, grandparents may be able to be a source of support if parents are returning to work or need a night off from parenting duties. 

Here are a few tips for parents to avoid experiencing isolation:

  1. Going online or picking up the phone can be a good substitute for face-to-face contact. There’s a world of social connections to make and enjoy, even if you’re at home or don’t have the free time to meet with friends. Online forums and peer-support groups can help you connect with others who are experiencing similar issues.
  2. Attending antenatal groups, baby groups, or parenting classes before a baby is born can help reduce isolation as well as be a space where new relationships can develop with a new peer group.
  3. Take up offers of support from friends and family, and reach out and ask for help if needed. Often others are happy to help.
  4. Caring for parents can be difficult. Organisations like Age UK, Alzheimer’s Society and Carers UK offer a range of advice and support services. For greater needs, speak to social services about enlisting paid carers.
  5. Becoming a new parent and caring for parents can put pressure on a couple’s relationship, so it’s important also to take time to nurture that relationship. Thoughtful acts such as making a cup of tea, cooking a meal, or words of affirmation can reinforce a relationship during stressful periods. If your relationship with your partner is at risk, then organisations such as Relate may help. 

Isolation in later life

Older people are particularly vulnerable to experiencing social isolation or loneliness due to loss of friends and family, mobility or income.

There are a number of things we can do in older age to stay more connected to the people we love and also to create new friendships. The following tips have been adapted from the guide ‘Staying Healthy, Happy and Connected in Older Age’.While they have been outlined here as tips for older people, these recommendations can be just as readily applied to others who experience isolation.

  • Keep in touch with family and friends: having regular chats with friends or relatives over the phone or online can be a good substitute for face-to-face contact. There are a range of supports available to help you go online if you haven’t done this before.
  • Use public transport: this can be a good alternative, especially if you are anxious about driving or have been advised to stop driving. Bus travel is free for over 60s in many parts of the UK, including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. You’ll need to check with your council about when you can apply for a bus pass. There are also services such as Dial-a-Bus and hospital visiting bus services available in some areas.
  • Learn new things: if there’s something you have always wanted to learn to do, why not try and see if you can do it locally? Staying active, joining activity groups such as a walking group, or getting a gardening allotment can be great ways to meet new people who share similar interests. Universities and colleges are not just for younger people. Many welcome people of all ages, and it may also be worth checking to see if they are offering any short-term or evening courses in a subject area of interest. Additionally, libraries may offer classes in a range of topics, such as learning English, ICT skills, knitting and craft – often for free or for a small fee. You can also join a local choir or singing group to help connect with others while doing something fun that is also good for your wellbeing. Local churches and faith community centres can offer a wide range of activities that are open to the whole community.

The Ramblers Association is available to anyone who likes to walk, regardless of age: Ramblers Association England (020 7339 8500); Scotland (0131 472 7006); Wales (029 2064 4308); Disabled ramblers group.

Interested in gardening? Your local council should have a list of allotments that are available for the public to use. The National Allotment Society (01536 266576), lists allotments all across the UK .

  • Volunteering can be a great way of meeting new people and developing new interests. In addition, acts of kindness such as volunteering are good for your own mental health. Joining neighbourhood schemes, local pressure groups or committees, or a formal volunteering programme are all worth considering. Less formally, you could offer to help neighbours who may need support or family members (e.g. looking after your grandchildren). 

Many national organisations run volunteer programmes. The Retired and Senior Volunteer Programme (020 7643 1385), helps older people use their life experience in their community and particularly welcomes volunteers over the age of 80.

If you are online, you can find out what volunteering opportunities are available in your area.

For more suggestions on where you can go to learn new things, or share your skills with others, check out the Wise Guide.

Get online: keeping in touch online can also be a good substitute for staying connected to friends and family who do not live locally. There is a range of internet providers and it is worth shopping around to get the best deal. Many phone providers offer an internet service as part of a package. Making phone calls through services like Skype, which uses Wi-Fi to make phone calls, means you can either have free phone calls to the other person if they also have a Skype account, or you pay a small charge (which is often cheaper than that of regular phone companies) when you phone from your computer to a landline or mobile phone. Skype allows for face-to-face contact, which can be a great way to continue to feel connected with friends and family who may live in other parts of the world.

Age UK runs computer courses all over the UK, which are mostly free and help individuals brush up on their online skills if the thought of going online seems daunting. Age UK’s advice line is 0800 169 2081

Once you learn how to use the internet, it can open up a whole new world to you. It’s a great resource for finding out things happening near you and can also be a way to make new friends who share similar interests. 

Sites to check out include:

  • Gransnet – a social networking site for grandmothers over the age of 50. It also hosts forums for granddads (see: Granddad’s shed).
  • Silversurfers – a website for the over 50s with lots of lifestyle information, news, forums and more.
  • Laterlife – a website for those in later life and retirement that offers valuable information about how to make the most of later life and retirement.

If you don’t have a personal computer at home, you can usually find one to use for free at your local library, community centre, or Age UK.