Almost a million older people say they feel lonelier at Christmas and half a million of them can go up to a week without seeing or speaking to anyone, with the television as their only company. They admit that speaking about their loneliness is very difficult, as they do not want to be seen to be a burden. A recent study on loneliness revealed that over 9 million people in the UK across all age groups – more than the population of London – are either always or often lonely.
This is now recognised as posing a severe health risk with reports showing that loneliness can be as harmful for our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and worse than obesity. Many of our older neighbours will be spending this Christmas alone without family and friends and are not looking forward to it. When asked why they say “It’s just another day“ and “It’s just a normal part of my life now“ Although loneliness is by no means an inevitable part of ageing, difficult life events that many experience as people get older, such as bereavement, serious illness or reduced mobility, can all be triggers for becoming more isolated and feeling lonelier.
Age UK and its local partners across the country work to combat loneliness through a range of services and activities, such as lunch clubs, exercise classes and advice and support when there’s no one else to turn to. This winter the Charity’s ‘No one should have no one to turn to’ campaign aims to raise awareness of the vital and often life-changing support their free information and advice offers. As part of the campaign a powerful new film, on-air during December, highlights some of the challenges of later life which can be so much harder to bear if you are facing them alone.
It shows how the Charity is there to help and features one of Age UK’s trained advisers, providing a calm, reassuring voice and expert support. It’s important to remember that while older people can feel lonelier at Christmas, loneliness happens all year round. But Christmas is a great time for us to connect with each other. This December, make that moment of connection happen with a lonely older person.
Take the time to talk to an older person this Christmas. You could be doing your shop at the supermarket, at the pub or out for a walk. But just say a simple hello and it could make a difference to someone who’s lonely. Speak to your friends and family that you won’t be with this Christmas. A ten-minute phone call can have a big impact. Ring the doorbell and hand a Christmas card to your neighbour.
Do you have a spare chair at your dinner table? Know a neighbour who might be alone? Invite them to join you for Christmas dinner. Hosting a Christmas party? If there’s anyone in your community who might be alone, send them an invite. This is a chance to make new friends by creating new bonds in the community that will last well beyond Christmas Day.
Age UK’s Advice Line is a confidential phone service for older people, their families, friends and carers. It is staffed by a team of friendly expert advisers who can give support on a wide range of issues, such as coping with bereavement, tackling loneliness, managing health issues and dealing with money worries.