Christmas is traditionally when families come together but for thousands of older people it can be the loneliest time of the year.
While for many of us the festive season is a time of excitement – seeing loved ones and giving and receiving gifts – for around 500,000 people over 60 Christmas can be the loneliest time, those who have lost their partners or whose children have moved too far away to visit. It’s a sad fact, however, that isolation and loneliness is the reality of many older people all year round too, not just at Christmas.
If you are going to be alone at Christmas, plan your ideal day: perhaps you’d have breakfast in bed then go for a walk or watch a classic movie – it’s your day, do exactly what you like as you’ve got no one to please but yourself!
You might think you’re the only person in your neighbourhood who feels lonely at Christmas but you’ll be surprised – there are thousands of others just like you who’d like company. So why not invite a neighbour over for mince pies and a movie, organise a pre-Christmas get-together or ask around to see if anyone would like to go on a Christmas Day walk with you.
There’s so much we can all do at this time of year to help an older person. It doesn’t have to take lots of time and, while donations are always greatly appreciated by charities working at the frontline, it could be something as simple as checking on an elderly friend or relative.
You could always join the thousands of people up and down the nation who help out in soup kitchens or similar locations during the Christmas period. It’s a wonderful way to avoid feeling lonely, keep busy and meet other people. Visit www.timebank.org.uk (call 0203 111 0700 or write to TimeBank, One KX, 120 Cromer Street, London WC1H 8BS) where you can find charity events and groups near you.
How can you help?
• Older people spending Christmas alone would appreciate a kind word/quick visit from a neighbour, or perhaps an invite to join you for festive lunch or tea later in the day.
• If you suspect someone is spending the Christmas period alone but lives too far away to check on, telephone them and ask what they will be doing and to let them know they “are in your thoughts”.
• Can you help with their Christmas card writing? Spending just 15 minutes writing the envelopes will be helpful as well as providing some company.
• Check with local groups/churches to see if they offer help over Christmas or on Christmas Day (there may be lunches laid on) or if they need volunteers, transport etc.
• Get tech savvy: As families become more spread around the country (and the world), there has never been a better time to get technology savvy. Skype, WhatsApp and FaceTime all allow you to stay in touch – whatever the time of day and wherever you may be. And there are lots of courses available to help you get to grips with your mobile or computer. Your local library is a good starting point for further information.
• Call The Silver Line. All calls to this helpline – 0800 470 80 90 – are free, and the specially-trained team offer advice, links to things going on in your area, or just a friendly voice at the end of the phone line to chat to.
• Since holding its first tea party in 1965, Contact the Elderly has supported more than 100,000 lonely older people. Supported by a network of volunteers, the charity organises monthly Sunday afternoon tea parties for small groups of older people aged over 75 who live alone. For more details, visit www.contact-the-elderly.org.uk or call the freephone on 0800 716543.
• Age UK is the UK’s largest charity working with older people. For more information, or to find your local branch, visit www.ageuk.org.uk or call 0800 678 1174.