Academic looks at coping strategies for summertime loneliness in older people

While many people look forward to the long, hot days of summer, a Swansea University academic warns that for many people, the season can be a particularly lonely time when older people in particular can feel more isolated.

Dr Deborah Morgan, from the University’s Centre for Innovative Ageing says that while winter, particularly Christmas is most often associated with increased levels of loneliness, it is also common for people to feel lonely during summertime.

Reasons for loneliness

There are many possible reasons for this such as:

  • longer days
  • family or friends going away on holidays
  • activities closing down or operating at reduced levels

Older people can become lonely for many reasons and often feel that there is a stigma around talking about loneliness.  Loneliness or social isolation can arise for many reasons including:

  • illness
  • bereavement or late life marital breakdown
  • loss of friends or family
  • moving to a new area
  • caring commitments
  • retirement
  • stopping driving

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Coping Strategies

Dr Morgan has been working to research loneliness and social isolation in older people to raise awareness of coping strategies to help alleviate these conditions.  At her recent TEDx talk A Life Less Lonely  Dr Morgan says: “The people who recovered from loneliness were those who went back to social activities they’d been part of in the past, joined new activity groups or took up new hobbies, but those who were chronically lonely focussed on solitary activities – they read, they watched TV or gardened and some people turned to alcohol to numb the pain.” 

She says that some people will always find their own solutions to alleviate loneliness and others may turn to interventions such as befriending, attending tea parties and men sheds, which help men build social connections and friendships.

However, in her talk Dr Morgan acknowledges that the chronically lonely may need additional support to overcome their negative mind-set.

She said: “They may need support for the grief and depression they may be experiencing. They may need support to regain the confidence to go back out to the social world. They need to feel they have value and they have something to offer and they need the opportunity to do something with as opposed to having something done to them.  It’s not a one size fits all approach.”

A pocket guide written by Dr Morgan to help deal with loneliness can be found here

Dr Morgan has been working with people like Vic who has experienced loneliness and now gives group talks to help widen the debate and raise awareness of loneliness and what can be done to help support people experiencing it.

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Vic’s Story

Sixty-six-year-old Vic Brown lives in a village in Mid Wales, north Powys.  Four years ago Vic lost his wife after 41 years of marriage and now lives alone but has two daughters living close by. Vic has led an active life and over the years worked as a sign maker, a model maker, HGV driver and was a canal boat owner and operator, but now is disabled and frequently has to use a wheelchair to get about.

Despite being a sociable person, Vic first began feeling lonely and isolated while caring for his wife when she became ill and this increased after her death. He raised this issue to a variety of people including a social worker and GP, but they did not regard it as a problem, and he felt he was perceived as being negative.

He said: “I guess I'd like life to be as I previously experienced. To have a chat, have a laugh, even to experience once more the closeness of people, friends, real friends. People who actually communicate with each other and look out for each other.”

“Throughout my life I've always offered my help, emotionally or physically, to anyone I felt needed it, but I found that if that help is offered I'm looked at like I'm after something or just trying to intrude on another's way of life. In a nutshell made to feel that I'm being nosey! That's very sad.”

Vic first became a board member of his local housing association which had helped to give him purpose and later on he got involved with organisations such as Aging Well in Wales, where he worked with people in similar situations to himself. 

He said: “Through getting involved in meetings and conferences, I’ve come across some real people. People that care about their community. It has got me out further, mixing with people of all age groups and abilities.”

Vic says that it has given him the opportunity to see that loneliness is widespread. He said: “It exists for the widowed, separated, divorced, young and old and I think that increased social interaction, communication and community spirit are the keys to help alleviate it.”