Not everyone has family or friends to celebrate Christmas with, and for many older individuals, December 25th is just another day. In the United Kingdom, more than half of the elderly aged 75 and up live alone. Many older individuals do not have children or family living nearby, and they frequently communicate with their offspring via FaceTime or phone conversations rather than in-person visits.
More than 250,000 adults aged 75 and over are dreading Christmas.
This year, the problem of loneliness during Christmas will be exacerbated by the uncertainty surrounding more lockdown measures possibly being implemented around the country.
For many… Christmas is simply another day in the year.
Age UK’s 2017 Christmas campaign video has a very poignant message…
During the holidays and especially at festive times, loneliness can be amplified by the lack of having anyone to spend time with. According to Age UK, nearly a million elderly people feel more lonely at Christmas. And out of those, 40% are alone after their husband or wife has died. Information from Careline Live
Choosing to spend Christmas alone when in your thirties, because you want some time out, is very different to being alone in your eighties and are suffering from chronic loneliness.
Don’t forget Christmas day is one day when everything closes
Many older folks will have a weekly schedule that includes going to a public place for a small amount of social engagement. It may be a quick lunch at a café, a stroll around the shopping centre, or a visit to the local library. Most of these places are closed over the holidays, which can lead to even more isolation for individuals who rely on social connection. A brief interaction with a shopkeeper may be the only time they talk to anybody all day.
Unfortunately, communities are not as strong as they once were, so many older individuals might go weeks without speaking to a friend or family.
Despite the grim statistics, there is no shortage of those willing to help. As we saw during the lockdown, communities pull together to assist one another.
How you can help
For those that want to help support the elderly and ensure that no one is alone, there are a number of national charities that welcome volunteers.
Age UK friendship Services
UK operate a number of friendship services that involves calling an elderly person at a set time every week for a chat – much like talking to a relative or a friend. It is a nationwide service and people are matched by interests so that they have things to talk about.
Reengage Community Christmas
Community Christmas is an online directory of local festive activities taking place across the UK and are open to local older, vulnerable people who would otherwise be spending Christmas Day alone.
You can register any activity or event that brings older people comfort and joy and makes the day special. They are encouraging anyone of any age who will be alone on Christmas Day to use their directory to find something in their area they can go to.
Reengage are also offering a call companion to any older person who is feeling alone at this difficult time and would like a regular chat over the phone from one of their friendly volunteers throughout the festive season and beyond.
Royal Voluntary Service
Possibly the most well-known voluntary service, RVS operates year-round but also requires additional support over Christmas. RVS offers a wide range of services from companionship for people in the hospital and visiting elderly people in their homes, to exercise classes and community sheds.
As a volunteer, you could be a pair of hands in someone’s garden, a friendly face for a patient in hospital, helping to run a yoga club, chatting to someone in their own language… Whatever your “something special” is, they will help you match it with their volunteering opportunity that’s right for you.
Practical things you can do to help
Even without joining an organisation, there are many things you can do in your own community to support the elderly and to ensure that they are included at Christmas:
- Invite someone round for a meal or bake them a cake.
Having one extra for lunch isn’t much effort but would make such a huge difference to an elderly person that hasn’t had a conversation with anyone in over a month.
- Help out with their shopping.
Pop round to your elderly neighbour and ask if you can take them out to the shops so that they can buy food or to get out of the house. Being alone can be a long day, with little to do.
- Offer to drive an elderly neighbour to an event.
Encourage someone you know to get out and about to events over the festive season. By offering to drive them, it might be the nudge they need to overcome any anxiety, especially on Christmas Day when transport is limited.
- Don’t assume, ask.
Elderly people tend to be more stoic and are more likely to not ask for help, so the emphasis is on you to make a judgement if you feel someone is lonely. If a neighbour never has visitors or doesn’t go out much, take the time to go and ask them to join you on Christmas Day or even just offer to take them out for a cup of tea.
- Recognise if they are anxious.
Remember, if someone is suffering loneliness, they may have become socially anxious, so be mindful and try to consider what they would need to make them feel more comfortable. They may say no, simply for reasons such as fear of how to make conversation or for being uncomfortable eating in front of someone if they can’t chew properly. Make sure you don’t go overboard and do recognise if someone genuinely wants to be alone but also, know when someone is saying no out of fear or to be polite.
- Help with Christmas decorations.
Many people living alone don’t bother to decorate the house and it can make a big difference and help lift their mood. Why not buy your neighbour a small tree and decorate it for them. Don’t forget to let them know you will also take it away, so that they don’t need to worry about the cleaning up.
Some Information within this article is sourced AGE UK & Careline Live