Chapter one of Wise Guide 3: Healthy, happy, connected - Support and advice for older people living alone
Staying connected as you get older
For many people, a key change in life comes with retirement - whether you and/or your partner are retiring. If you have always worked, you may find that with retirement comes freedom, choice and - most precious of all - time. But are you finding you miss the routine of work and the company you had there? Perhaps although you looked forward to having more time, the days can now seem very long.
When you plan ahead, it’s good to think about the little things as well as the big ones. If you are moving to a new place, what will you do when you get there? If you are leaving friends and neighbours for a new life in the country, how will you make new friends?
To move or not to move?
If you are planning a big change, such as moving house, you could think about how you will keep in touch with friends and relations, make new friends, get out and about and manage if you become unwell or less active? Even if you aren’t planning a move, you could think about where you live now. Have you got friends locally? If you live in a rural area, how will you get about if one day you can no longer drive?
Many people like the idea of retiring to the country for the peace and quiet, but sometimes the country can be just a bit too quiet! While living in a town might be less picturesque, transport links will be better and the shops, libraries, doctors and other services more local. So, a move to the country needs careful consideration. There are useful factsheets about this at overthehillcampaign.org.uk, 01432 344039.
Look after yourself
If you have any health concerns at all, don’t just accept this as part and parcel of getting older - make an appointment to see your GP or optician (see chapter 4).
Perhaps you are worried your money won’t last. Perhaps you are already struggling or have debts but feel you can’t talk to anyone about it? Well, the good news is that there is lots of financial advice and help out there for you. But you do need to ask for it.
The Pension Service (0800 731 7898, Northern Ireland, 0845 601 8821) can work out if you are eligible for extra money over the phone. You will need to have your National Insurance number and all income and savings details handy. They may be able to visit you at home if you can’t use the phone or are housebound. See also our Wise Guide, Advice for later life, which is packed with useful and up-to-date advice and information on how to boost your income and save money.
Keep in touch by phone
A long chat with a friend or relative over the phone is still the best substitute for actually being with them. But if you are worried about money, you might find you are restricting the number of calls you make to reduce your phone bill.
It’s worth knowing that if you are on your phone provider’s (such as BT or Virgin) regular tariff you are probably not getting the best deal. You can save a lot of money - sometimes £100s a year - by signing up to a call package that means you only pay a certain amount every month. Your calls during the day and at weekends are often free.
“I make all my phone calls to friends and family in the evenings after 7pm. My phone tariff allows me free evening and weekend calls to local and national landline numbers as well as mobile numbers for up to an hour. To save being charged if I get near the hour limit, I hang up and dial again to get another free 60-minute call.”
Call your provider and ask what deals they have available. Ask them to explain anything you don’t understand - information about tariffs can be very confusing. If you are online, you can look at all the phone companies and what they charge and find the best deal for you. It’s a competitive market and companies are all trying to outdo each other on the best deal. You can usually earn an extra discount for signing up online. Have a look at broadbandchoices.co.uk/home-phone
moneysavingexpert.com/phones/home-phone-calls#quicktips is a website that offers tips and advice on ways to save money in all kinds of different ways, including phone calls, utility bills - that’s gas and electricity - and on insurance packages.
If you want to phone someone overseas regularly, there are special deals for this too. If you are confident online, it’s worth finding out how to make phone calls using Skype. This means you can phone for free. If the other person is also online and uses Skype then you can even see each other. Skype is a very cheap way to stay in touch with friends and family who have moved away (skype.com).
It’s free if you call computer to computer, but there is a small charge to call from your computer to a phone - UK calls cost £3.44 for 400 minutes a month at the time of going to press, but there are different rates for different countries.
It’s in the diary - forward planning
Bob’s story - pack up your troubles
The doctor told Bob he could do anything in moderation, “I do what I can do and I don’t overdo it. You can do what you want. You need to get out and about and not sit and mope.”
Bob travels the country to visit his sisters and keep his social life active. If you book in advance, train travel can be cheap, especially if you can book online and a month in advance (thetrainline.com).
It can help to plan your day and week ahead and put things in your calendar or diary to do each day - calling a friend, a walk in the park, going to a local café, library, community or sports centre, places of interest or the cinema... If there is something you have always wanted to do, then why not try and find out if you can learn how to do it locally or join a local group?
The Women’s’ Institute (020 7371 9300, thewi.org.uk) runs many interesting events and is very sociable, while the Mothers Union (020 7222 5533, themothersunion.org) is more closely affiliated to the Church of England. Both organisations do a lot of fundraising for charities and support people in local communities, and both have branches almost everywhere, including rural areas.
Other groups for women include Townswomen’s Guilds, (0121 326 0400, townswomen.org.uk), where groups meet to develop new skills, share ideas and organise charitable events, and the National Women’s Register (01603 406 767, nwr.org.uk), which is a discussion and activity club. Couples or individuals might like to join Rotary Clubs (01789 765411, ribi.org), which hold many social events and raise money to support worthwhile projects.
Back to work?
Are you missing work? Many people miss the routine and company of work. If you are missing it and are fit and well then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t go back.
Perhaps you could return on a part-time basis or teach your skill or retrain to do something totally different? There is plenty of advice on how to go about getting back into work at ageuk.org.uk/work-and-learning/looking-for-work. You might also like to think about volunteering (see chapter 3).
“I use my bus pass every day and wherever I go, I always ask if there’s a special price for pensioners. A café gave me a free coffee once when I told them I was 90!”
Driving is a wonderful way to get about but it’s not the only way of travelling. Are you still enjoying driving and do you feel safe on the roads? If you are worried about your eyesight then you should get your distance vision checked or even take another driving test to check that you are as good a driver as ever. If you are feeling anxious about driving or have been advised to stop, it may be time to get to know public transport.
The good news is that using public transport will save you lots of money - bus travel is free for over 60s across the UK and local buses often go right to local shopping centres, hospitals and city centres. There are fewer buses in rural areas and you will need to have a better idea of bus timetables, but you should still be able to get to where you want to go. Getting out and about on public transport will keep you fitter than driving and for longer distance travel there are many good deals to be had on train and coach travel, especially if you can book in advance.
Find out about local transport in your area from Traveline (0871 200 2233, traveline.info), Trainline (0871 244 1545, thetrainline.com) and National Express coaches (08717 81 81 81, nationalexpress.com).
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