Rates of social isolation and loneliness peaked at unprecedented levels during the pandemic, with older people particularly feeling the effects. It brought a new appreciation to the importance of having regular social interaction and companionship, particularly when it comes to maintaining good mental health. Companionship prevents isolation, keeps your mind active, and helps us to stay positive.

Finding the right sources of companionship can be difficult as we age, particularly as children grow up and partners and friends succumb to illness or pass away. Here are five of our suggestions to be proactive about building and maintaining social connections.

1) Connect with neighbours and your community
Stay in regular touch with a neighbour or friend who lives nearby. Even a cup of tea over the fence involves social interaction, and it’s certainly better than nothing! Join a local community group to expand your network. We all enjoy that lovely sense of belonging to a group so find one that interests you and reach out to them.

2) Exercise together
Exercise is the best mood booster – and it’s easier to do with a friend. So why not make an exercise date with a friend, neighbour, or companion and catch up with at least three times a week? It doesn’t have to be complicated: you can resolve to walk around your garden a few times with a neighbour or friend or walk up and down the footpath three times – it all helps. Don’t forget to check in with your medical practitioner if you are getting back into exercising after an illness or accident. The hardest part is to start – but it’s worth the effort – because you will both feel so much better for it, and you will have done it together. Exercise has a positive impact on mind, body and soul.

3) Pick up the phone
Phone an old friend or a distant family member every day. We often forget that it’s great to catch up over the phone, and there are certainly fewer technology challenges! If you’re not sure what to say to someone you haven’t spoken to in a while, write down your best memory of them. Then you can ring them up and say, “I was just remembering that time you… and it made me pick up the phone to see how you are.” Memories really are the best conversation starter! Your family member or friend will really appreciate the gesture.

4) Write a letter
Oh, the forgotten joys of writing a letter! Even if it’s just a card – it’s still a conversation you’re initiating, and it very much counts as a form of companionship. Write to your heart’s content. There is no rush – you can take your time if writing by hand has become more difficult. Remember writing is great for your co-ordination as well as being fantastic stimulation for your brain. The best part is you’ll hopefully get a letter in return. It’s always exciting to receive a letter. There’s that special feeling you get as you open it. It’s priceless. Be the one to start the ball rolling.

5) Read a book together
How does reading a book count as a form of companionship? Don’t you do that on your own? Well, you can start a new book club with friends and family, and make a social group of it. Set a book to read with a couple of friends, and talk about the plot over the phone (or the internet) as you all progress. A family book club is a great activity to do with older grandchildren. It’s so interesting reading bestsellers for teenagers or young adults, and then talking about them while you all read. Some aspects of storytelling have changed and many others have stayed the same. It’s a great way to stay connected with younger members of your extended family, and to keep your young readers reading.

RELATED: Loneliness among older people: A research roundup 


Need help getting started?
A Home Instead CAREGiver is here to help. Your CAREGiver can take you for a drive, or to the movies, accompany you when you’re walking your dog – the list is endless. If you’re into arts and crafts, they can help you get it all set up (and clean up) so you can really get into it. If gardening is your thing, they’ll help you with digging, weeding, and watering. They just love games and puzzles, as well as cooking and baking, and shopping with a CAREGiver can be an enjoyable outing. Even for ageing adults whose family members are close by, a Home Instead CAREGiver can help reduce loneliness and keep you happy and busy on days that can’t otherwise be filled.