You may have seen this story in The West Australian just prior to Christmas, but we reckon the intergenerational spotlight on loneliness and helping others avoid it with your company, should remain on all year.
It’s no secret loneliness is on the rise. At one time older people were thought to be the most likely age group to experience loneliness. Research from 2023 shows it’s actually younger and middle-aged people who can feel the most alone. With the festive season right around the corner, what does it mean for Australians experiencing social isolation?
According to the State of the Nation Report: Social Connection in Australia 2023, nearly one in three Australians feel lonely. While 69% of Australians agree loneliness is a serious issue, only three in ten say they know how to help other people who are feeling lonely. That’s a huge gap, one that has serious repercussions for the health and wellbeing of Australians of all ages.
Closing the loneliness gap
One study attributes social connection as a major influence on loneliness. The Bankwest Curtin Economic Centre’s (BCEC) Stronger Together: Loneliness and Social Connectedness in Australia  concludes one of the reasons younger people struggle is due to inexperience. Making major life transitions in your teens and twenties is difficult and unsettling. Young people don’t have experience weathering life’s storms. Older people, by contrast, know what to expect from retirement and their later years. They’ve developed coping skills and have survived a lifetime of ups and downs. While losing friends and relationships from illness and death is unwelcome, it’s an expected part of life as we age.
Loneliness is a universal human emotion
In 2021, the Australian Red Cross  revealed women and younger people are more likely to experience feelings of loneliness during the festive season. If young people are feeling lonely, and older people are better equipped to manage their loneliness despite social isolation, bringing different generations together to support each other makes a lot of sense.
That’s exactly what ABC TV’s Old People’s Home for Teenagers and Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds explored. Both programs were popular with viewers who could see firsthand the benefits of intergenerational social connection. Joint activities designed for all age groups reduce loneliness in younger people and social isolation for young and old.
How you can help close the loneliness gap
The New Year is a perfect time to begin making new, or expanding your current, community connections with people of all ages. With the warm weather comes more opportunity for social connections and activities. Here are some ways you can help overcome loneliness:
- Sharing a cuppa: You’ve no doubt heard the saying, “the biggest gift you can give someone is your time” and it’s true. Making time to sit down, have a cup of tea and talk to someone about how they’re feeling in the lead up to Christmas Day is one of the simplest ways to help them feel connected. Just listening to the person, hearing their concerns and sharing memories of days gone by can also make them feel seen.
- Share a recipe: All over the world, nothing brings families and friends together like food. And with so much cooking experience under their belt, older people often have a wealth of recipes to share. Asking them to show you their favourite recipes in the kitchen doesn’t just encourage activity and movement, it also gives them purpose and creates the opportunity to reminisce.
- Crafting: If you are a master crocheter, your skills could provide a lifetime of enjoyment to someone who would like to learn.
- Attending religious services: Older people often miss out on religious services because of mobility or transportation needs. The holidays are a great time to help someone connect with their spiritual side by taking them to a service.
- Visiting community markets and seasonal events: Whether it be food trucks, market stalls, or outdoor movies, summer comes alive with community activities. Check out your local council event page to see what is happening in your neighbourhood.
- Attending neighbourhood gatherings: Offer to escort an older neighbour with limited mobility to the neighbourhood party or local school concert. Assist them getting up and down steps, a nemesis of many older people.
Intergenerational activities can be done on a small scale. All it takes is knocking on a neighbour’s door and extending an invitation. The Australian Red Cross has excellent resources to help you get to know your neighbours, share skills or hobbies, or if you’re feeling ambitious, organise an intergenerational street party.
The truth is there is no long-term trial evidence looking at the effects of intergenerational activities on social isolation for older people. But we don’t need research to tell us building relationships and developing friendships is valuable for quality of life and mental health. As the celebration season approaches, the best gift might be an offer of your time and attention to someone who is socially isolated and feeling lonely. Chances are, you’re going to enjoy that gift as much as the person receiving it.
Let us know your ideas for intergenerational activities. What have you seen working really well?
 Ending Loneliness Together (2023). State of the Nation Report: Social Connection Australia 2023. https://lonelinessawarenessweek.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/10/state-of-nation-social-connection-2023.pdf
 Duncan A, Kiely D, Mavisakalyan A, Peters A, Seymour R, Twomey C and Vu L (2021), ‘Stronger Together: Loneliness and social connectedness in Australia’, Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre Focus on the States Series, #8, November 2021.