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13 Free or Low-Cost Things You Can Do Now to Deal With Loneliness

As we age, social connections are key to health and happiness


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Ana Cuna

Staying close to family and friends is often vital to aging well and living a long, meaningful life.

People who connect socially are generally healthier, happier and better able to confront whatever obstacles are thrown their way, reports show. Conversely, those who are socially isolated may sleep less, abuse alcohol or drugs more and experience bouts of loneliness. They may suffer from depression, dementia or face other serious health problems.

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“Our epidemic of loneliness and isolation has been an underappreciated public health crisis that has harmed individual and societal health,” U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy proclaimed a year ago, as part of an advisory calling attention to the issue.

“Our relationships are a source of healing and well-being hiding in plain sight — one that can help us live healthier, more fulfilled and more productive lives,” he said. “Given the significant health consequences of loneliness and isolation, we must prioritize building social connection the same way we have prioritized other critical public health issues such as tobacco, obesity, and substance use disorders.”

Sadly, loneliness can be a catch-22: As people age, they are more likely to encounter physical or mental challenges that may make socializing more difficult. Yet making connections may reduce the likelihood of experiencing such problems.

At the same time, as people get older, some of the friends and loved ones who used to navigate life with them may no longer be around. A study published in 2019 suggests that those who are grieving a spouse are at a high risk for loneliness. The pandemic made things worse.

Indeed, more than half of nearly 2,000 people in the U.S. who were part of an AARP online survey in June 2022 said they knew someone personally who passed away or became seriously ill from COVID-19. As a result, two-thirds of those people reported that social connections and spending time with loved ones became much more important to them.

But the pandemic changed even respondents who did not know someone who died or became seriously ill from COVID. Nearly 60 percent of them indicated the importance of such social connections and spending high-quality time with the people they love.

That attitude likely hasn’t changed even with the pandemic in the rear-view mirror.

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Many potential antidotes to loneliness

Fortunately, you can counteract loneliness in myriad ways; broadly, by making time to give back, seeing the world, learning alongside others or relaxing with friends. But no one solution can help people make social connections. Not everyone has the same financial resources, physical capabilities or circle of friends to rely on.

In no particular order, here are 13 free or low-cost ways that you can meet new people or reconnect with friends if you’ve lost touch.

1. Organize a reunion. Reach out on social media or through alumni groups to former school, workplace or summer camp chums who are presumably just as eager to rekindle relationships. Family reunions, small or large, fit the bill, too.

Arrange an in-person reunion if possible, and if people can afford it, maybe even travel to some far-flung destination. If not, FaceTime, Zoom or another video chat app may be your next best option. Follow up with regularly scheduled chats or meetups.

2. Take a trip. Where have you always wanted to go? Now may be the time to take that trip, budget and health permitting.

If you’re into genealogy, perhaps the trip you take is to follow your ancestral roots. You might even discover and meet distant kin living in another country.

Visit and volunteer for your cause

3. Volunteer. Are you passionate about saving the planet or other causes and issues? Seek volunteer opportunities at charitable organizations and grassroots events.

4. Walk your dog. If you are able, caring for a pet will not only provide loving companionship at home but will also afford you the chance to meet other people who adore their own furry family members. You’ll almost certainly encounter fellow pet owners when walking your dog.

And if you’re truly crazy about animals, volunteer at a shelter where you’ll not only be doing good but will also meet like-minded humans.

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5. Visit a house of worship. Churches and synagogues frequently host social events and volunteer opportunities, and provide a sense of community.

6. Seek intergenerational connections. Young and old can learn from one another.

Eldera, which matches people 60 or older as mentors for kids 5 to 17, is billed as a global virtual village where generations are brought together. Mentor and child have weekly 30- to 90-minute meetups over Zoom to read books, share stories, play games and discuss practically anything. Mentors assume a kind of honorary grandparent or aunt/uncle role.

“They have to figure out their own relationship,” Eldera CEO Dana Griffin says. “The magic that two people can create together is so far above anything we could imagine.”

Mentors are all U.S.-based, must pass a background check and meet Eldera’s “kindness, generosity and curiosity” requirements. Only a parent or legal guardian can sign up their kids, who come from 27 countries.

Eldera is free for both older adults and parents though it recently added subscription models for people who want to pay the service forward for new members, and it still has a waiting list. The company also hosts intergenerational virtual socials around topics such as mental health, artificial intelligence and online safety.

For safety reasons, Eldera intentionally does not pair mentors and kids who live in the same geographic area. But Griffin says mentors routinely get together on Zoom and sometimes in person.

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The AARP Foundation’s Experience Corps can help you make a one-on-one connection in your community. In 20 cities across the country, volunteers 50 and older help young readers become great readers.

Expand your circle

7. Reach out to strangers. Never mind that you were long ago taught not to talk to strangers.

Tiny Habits author BJ Fogg suggests visiting a park at the same time each day. Note the other people around. If comfortable, strike up conversation with folks who appear approachable.

Eldera’s Griffin also suggests reaching out to people you don’t know personally. If you enjoy an article, newsletter or book, let the author know, she says. You’ll make their day better and reap your own benefits.

Say hello to someone you come across at the library, in your neighborhood or at the store, she says. Ask them about their day. 

8. Play video games. Multiplayer video games and electronic sports, known as e-sports, can be extraordinarily social. You might compete against other avid gamers or play more casually for fun.

Either way, you can bond with players in gaming communities or on streaming sites such as Twitch and YouTube. You might even become a rock star with your kids or grandkids.

9. Host a cocktail party. Nick Gray, author of The 2-Hour Cocktail Party: How to Build Big Relationships With Small Gatherings, recommends hosting a casual cocktail party, complete with name tags, reminder messages and a little bit of structure to break the ice.

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“You’re going to help your friends make new friends, and then ... you’re going to be the center of attention,” he says.

The most obvious question: Who should you invite? Gray suggests reaching out to neighbors you may know only a little.

“Everybody wants to know someone who brings people together,” he says. “Whenever you invite someone to an event, it’s like a little gift you get to give them.”

One theme Gray recommends for a party: a book swap. You and your guests put books you no longer want on a table, free for anyone to pick up. But it’s less about books and more about the inevitable mingling that occurs. It might even lead to a regular book club.

Take on a boarder, earn extra income

10. Rent a spare room. If you’re a widow, retiree or empty nester, the house in which you raised a family can feel awfully barren. Consider renting out a spare room. Besides finding companionship, you may earn a bit of extra income and even get someone to pitch in with light chores.

While not all people who live alone are lonely, it is the second biggest risk factor, behind the death of a spouse, according to two studies a decade apart. Nearly 15 million adults 65 and older lived alone in 2022, a nearly 37 percent increase from 2010, according to Census Bureau estimates.

“The benefits of this are not just the social connections that are made, but it’s actually an opportunity for older adults to give back,” says Noelle Marcus, chief executive of an online home-sharing portal called Nesterly that caters to older people seeking to rent rooms in greater Boston; Columbus, Ohio; Louisville, Kentucky; and, as part of a pilot program, in the state of Maine.

Nesterly is also taking requests from local organizations seeking to find their own networks. Rooms are often rented to grad students who may stick around an entire semester or longer. Tenants must rent for at least a month.

Hosts determine the rent, which is sometimes reduced for renters who help around the house. Nesterly takes a modest fee and handles background checks for both the homeowner and renter. Licensed social workers are on staff to assist with any issues that arise.

You may find similar services in your area by consulting the National Shared Housing Resource Center.

11. Check your health insurance plan for benefits that might help. Certain Medicare AdvantageMedicaid or other health insurance plans may offer services such as providing companionship or rides to health appointments.

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12. Follow your purpose. Griffin recommends thinking of three things you enjoy doing the most — cookinggardening, reading stories, sports, whatever.

Or make a list of the things you have always wanted to learn more about. Then poke around to find a free class online or at a local community college or university. You will learn a new skill and meet people interested in the same subjects.

13. Visit AARP.org.

  • You can be trained as a Friendly Voice volunteer to check in and talk with people who have asked to be contacted. Or you might want to request a call yourself.
  • At AARP Foundation’s Connect2Affect website, created in collaboration with four other groups, you can discover help in 10 categories based on your ZIP code. It also has a quiz to see if you’re at risk for social isolation.
  • At AARP’s Virtual Community Center, you’ll find scores of interactive classes for fun, such as dancingrestorative yoga and wines of the Western U.S. Or you can exercise your brain and learn about topics such as Medicare, new technology, preventing fraud or retirement planning.
  • Links to Movies for Grownups screenings are also available. You could have a watch party on your big-screen TV.
  • At aarp.org/local, enter your ZIP code to find free events and opportunities in your area.
  • Meanwhile, AARP affiliate Senior Planet offers free virtual fitness and other classes, including some on learning to use technology. It also has in-person centers in Denver, Miami, New York City and Palo Alto, California. It partners with other sites to offer classes in Montgomery County, Maryland, near Washington, D.C.; San Antonio and Bexar County, Texas; among other places.

“Older people tend to have stronger and better friendships than young people when they form them,” says Thomas Kamber, executive director of Older Adults Technology Services (OATS) and Senior Planet. “Technology becomes a chance to kind of make and create those opportunities for people. But you’ve got to close the deal by reaching out, sending somebody a personal message [and] by eventually putting down the computer and going for lunch.”

This story, originally published June 27, 2022, was updated to reflect the U.S. Surgeon General’s public health advisory on the loneliness epidemic and other new developments.

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