For many of us, the festive season is one of the most exciting parts of the year, but research from Age UK shows 1.4 million older people are expecting to feel alone at Christmas.
Nearly a million older people don’t have anyone to celebrate the festive period with this year and almost 1.5 million over 65s said they usually feel lonelier at Christmas than any other time of year.
Optimistically, the research also found that a phone call from a loved one is the best Christmas present many older people feel they can receive, so Age UK is encouraging everyone to make the effort to phone an older friend over the Christmas season, so they know they are not forgotten.
To help Age UK meet an upsurge in demand for its telephone-based services and to support those that need it the most, the charity is urgently appealing for people to donate to its Make Christmas a Little Brighter campaign.
71-year-old Michael knows just how vital a phone call can be, especially at this time of year. Michael lives alone and has little contact with his family. He has been regularly chatting to volunteer Gemma through Age UK’s Telephone Friendship Service for the past five years. He said: “Loneliness is devastating. It feels like having a prison sentence for 30 or 40 years - you’ve got no one to talk to or say anything to.
“Because of Covid, the past year or so has been even more devastating. I couldn’t get out and about and if I didn’t have Gemma I would be going spare. I always look forward to my call with her when Friday comes around, she is a diamond.
“Christmas, for me, is like being in a lockdown, so being able to speak to Gemma at this time of year makes such a difference, just having somebody at the end of the line who cares”.
Loneliness is devastating. It feels like having a prison sentence for 30 or 40 years
Connie is 94 and also lives alone. The pandemic led to her becoming more and more isolated from her family and friends, and after being alone for much of the time left her feeling very down, she contacted Age UK’s Telephone Friendship Service. “During lockdown, I felt that I was losing the ability to be able to converse with people. There have been times where I’ve spoken for the first time in a day, and my voice hasn’t worked properly. That’s scared me out of my mind.
“I worry about the colder months ahead when it gets dark at 4pm. The winter weather means I’m more at risk of falling and that terrifies me, so I tend not to go out, which means seeing people during winter and at Christmas time is very difficult.
“I’m so glad I signed up to the Age UK telephone calls. I was matched with a lovely woman called Hayley. I call her my Age UK Hayley, because I have a granddaughter who is also called Hayley. I look forward to the calls, they’re definitely a bright spark in my week, and it’s been nice to have someone to talk to on the phone, especially during times like these. I don’t know what it is exactly that makes them so important… I guess it’s having another person who is interested in me. That’s wonderful.”
The Age UK Telephone Friendship Service is a lifeline for so many older people like Michael and Connie. More than 22,000 friendship calls were made during the Christmas period alone last year and the service is continuing to experience huge demand, so Age UK urgently needs donations so it can continue to be there for those that need it.
To donate please visit: www.ageuk.org.uk/brighterchristmas
Ways to feel less lonely this Christmas
1) Focus on the small things you enjoy
Whether it's having a pamper night or watching your favourite films all night, consider those small activities that you can do alone that bring you joy. Plan out your entire Christmas period with all the things you love to do to give you a splash of joy per day.
2) Stop comparing your Christmas to others
Seeing other people enjoying a jam-packed festive season full of parties and get togethers with loved ones can be hard. That's why it might be a good idea to switch off from social media over the festive period. Comparison after all can be the thief of joy, so by taking away your social media outlets, you're removing the chance of yourself comparing yourself to others.
Not only is volunteering a brilliant way of spending your Christmas, it's also extremely rewarding. There are many different volunteering opportunities here in the UK including helping out in homeless shelters to doing your bit at the local animal sanctuary. The best way to find one is to contact some local charities to see if they need any help over the period.
4) Treat yourself
If there's one day when you should be able to indulge on all your favourite things, then it's Christmas. If you're cooking for one, take some time to prepare your favourite foods throughout the day, make your favourite cocktails and don't forget about a delicious Christmas dessert. You won't need to worry about everyone liking what you've cooked and also, there'll be barely any washing up to do!
5) Enjoy a long walk
Taking a long walk on winter days is one of life's most simple pleasures. Whether you're taking your dog for a walk or listening to your favourite music or podcast while you walk, there's no reason why you can't go alone. Why not try and find a new walking route to try too?
6) Meet up virtually
If your loved ones are far away or are feeling under the weather, then you can always meet up virtually. We're not just talking a lengthy Skype session, even picking up the phone can bring you a lot of joy.
7) Focus on your 2023 goals
2022 may have not been your year, but there's always next year. If you're already over 2022, then why not spend your Christmas period planning what you're going to do in 2023? Get your diary organised, have a think where you might want to visit or go on holiday.
If you find yourself feeling really low over this period, then it might be time to reach out to someone who can help support you.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, shares her tips for tackling loneliness if things start getting difficult.
Talk to someone: If you are on your own, as many older people are, it can be tempting to think nobody would want to hear from you. But talking to people and opening up is one of the best places to start if you can. Letting someone in your life – a friend, relative, neighbour, carer, GP or Age UK – know how you’re feeling can help you understand what it is you’re experiencing and enable you to work out the steps you can take to look after yourself.
Connect digitally: If you don’t have family or friends nearby, using digital services and technology can be a great way of keeping in touch and feeling connected to friends and family. Age UK and its network of local Age UKs are there to help get you get started online if this is something you wish to do.
Have a chat: If you like having a chat there are a number of services that could match you with someone to talk to, including:
Age UK’s Telephone Friendship Service offers those who are feeling lonely regular friendly chats with a trained volunteer. The calls are a chance to chat about anything from grandchildren or hobbies to a shared love of a TV programme, and for many these calls are the highlight of their week.
The Silver Line Helpline is a 24/7 free and confidential helpline service for older people to call if they feel lonely. For a cheerful chat, day or night, people can simply call 0800 4 70 80 90.
Many local Age UKs offer face-to-face befriending services. These often involve a volunteer visiting someone at home for a cup of tea and a chat.
Sign up to new activities and make new connections: Spending time with other people can be great to maintain social connections but also are a good way to learn a new skill or revisit an old hobby. Contact your local Age UK to find out more about the services and groups they are now running.
Become a volunteer: You might also want to become a volunteer yourself. Age UK offers a range of volunteering opportunities, all within Covid-safe guidelines, which include volunteering in one of the Charity’s many shops or helping out with local events. You can also find out if the local Age UK in your area is in need of volunteers to help older people either in a recurring service or throughout the festive season by getting in touch here.
To find out more about Age UK and the services and support the Charity offers visit: www.ageuk.org.uk or call 0800 169 6565 (8am-7pm).