Christmas is a time of celebration and a time to be spent with friends and family. But for some they are less fortunate and have no one, or nowhere, to go to over the festive period. Loneliness in the elderly is as prominent as ever, with over 3 million over 65’s saying they aren’t looking forward to Christmas this year.
In a recent Age UK report, it states that this 2019, over 870,000 elderly people will be eating Christmas dinner alone. A sad and harrowing statistic I’m sure we can all agree, but what can be done?
Loneliness amongst the elderly is especially rife, here are some statistics courtesy of the Campaign To End Loneliness:
- The number of over-50’s experiencing loneliness is set to reach 2 million by 2025/6. This compares to around 1.4 million in 2016/7 – a 49% increase in 10 years (Age UK 2018, All The Lonely People).
- There are 1.2 million chronically lonely older people in the UK. (Age UK 2016, No-one should have no one)
- Half a million older people go at least finve or six days a week without seeing or speaking to anyone at all (Age UK 2016, No-one should have no one)
- Over-half (51%) of all people aged over 75 live alone (Office for national statistics 2010. General lifestyle survey 2008).
- Two fifths of all older people (3.9 million) say the television is their main company.
- There are over 2.2 million people aged 75 and over living alone in Great Britain, an increase of almost a quarter (24%) over the past 2 years.
Loneliness as a concept is not a mental illness, but is something anyone can suffer from and it does have real health implications that come with it. It has been said that lonely people are more likely to suffer from dementia, heart disease and depression.
In the above mentioned Age UK report, Joanna Lumley, an Ambassador for the organisation had this to say:
” Loneliness is one of the most disabling and dispiriting situations that thousands must face this and every year. No one should have no one to turn to”
” Even pulling a Christmas cracker needs someone at the other end…and think of all the other moments when a kind hand, a warm voice, and understanding presence would be of even greater benefit to a lonely troubled person”.Joanna Lumley, Age UK ambassador
In an Interview with Gloucestershire’s Age UK CEO, Rob Fountain, he claimed that loneliness at Christmas wasn’t the main issue. “It isn’t necessarily just the Christmas period that is lonely, but it also a year round issue.
“Yes, they may be around family and friends at this time of year, with the good times flowing of course, but it is not always the best thing for them. They can experience real highs at this time of year that can equate the opposite lows right after it”.
When asked about whether the issue lies within families only lending an ear or even the slightest bit of attention at Christmas and not at any other point of the year, Rob had this to say:
“We find that we see our largest spike in calls to us comes at the period right after Christmas”. “It comes from a variety of things, it could be that they’ve gone from being around their family for a week straight then they’re launched straight into January, where it’s still very dark and the elderly feel less confident going out and about”.
“The bit that I would take is, that if people followed the teaching of ‘Goodwill to all men’ all year round, it would go a very long way”.
Rob is also very keen on the idea that the Elderly still have a lot to offer, so it isn’t necessarily ‘just going round to check they are alright’ but it is actually important to go over there with purpose.
“They are much more than you first think, they are a part of the community, with huge amounts of knowledge and experience. Why would you want to miss out on that?”.
“The community will benefit much more if it seeks out the potential and resources and gifts that older people have to offer. Christmas can feel really lonely because people gather around you but they aren’t giving you a purpose, they aren’t engaging with you, they just put you in the corner with a sherry and that’s that”.
Rob highlighted in his interview that the easiest way to be rid of loneliness amongst the elderly is having a purpose, knowing you still have something to offer in the community.
Loneliness is a chronic issue and not an acute one, and it almost appears as if Christmas is a short term solution of a long-term issue.
“The cure for loneliness is having a sense of purpose”Rob Fountain, CEO of Age UK Gloucestershire
“We at Age UK Gloucestershire say, the reason older people experience loneliness is not because of the age they are, it is because we have an ageist society and infrastructure that makes it really hard for those who struggle with mobility to move around”.
“The solution to the poor travel infrastructure is usually well-meaning people going round and transporting these elderly people that still have so much to offer. It almost boils down to, do you want these elderly people to enjoy later life by contributing to society, albeit in a different way to before, or not.”
“If there isn’t the infrastructure for these people to get to these places to help, they simply cannot help, then they lose their purpose”.
“There is significant evidence to suggest that if you have a change of mindset once you’ve retired, your psychological and physical health will begin to deteriorate. This is why we think it is so important that, after you finished your 9-5 life, you find something to fill it, a hobby or a friendship circle that meets”.
“When we see people who are ageing well, they aren’t people doing skydives, they are people who are actively helping and contributing to the community in some way”.
Loneliness is an ever growing problem, and is something we can all do our part to help solve. Whether it’s the smallest gesture, it all matters, just be consistent.
If you would like more information on how you can help, visit – www.ageuk.org.uk
Campaign To End Loneliness – https://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org