Close to a million older people face crushing loneliness this Christmas, a leading charity warned today.
Age UK has launched a moving campaign highlighting the year-round issue of chronic loneliness, which its research shows affects 1.2m in England alone, with a focus on the impact of the festive period.
The charity has commissioned a film, titled ‘Just Another Day’, to portray the reality of spending Christmas alone.
You can watch the 60 second clip, above.
The film depicts the daily routine of an older man who walks unnoticed beside those going about their business on the street and at the supermarket.
But his routine is brought to a dramatic halt when he realises the shops are closed for Christmas.
Based on its research, Age UK estimates that some 873,000 people aged 65 and over don’t see or hear from anyone for days on end over the festive period.
Some two-fifths of those in need of company are widowed, the charity’s survey of 2,585 people aged over 65 found.
And on some days over the period, some 55% rely solely on the TV for company.
The charity is appealing for people to volunteer for its companionship services, which provide crucial telephone support for those living with chronic loneliness.
It operates Call in Time, a telephone befriending service, which provides regular calls to isolated or lonely older people, in many cases this being the only conversation they will have all week.
Call in Time links up volunteers with vulnerable older people for regular calls - providing benefits to all those taking part.
Belfast-based Eliza loves volunteering on the Call in Time scheme. She has been matched with Susan, 90, from Barnstaple.
“I don’t think I really knew what loneliness was until I started on this scheme,” she said.
Eliza never knew one set of her grandparents, whilst her other grandmother died when she was sixteen.
The 29-year-old continued: “Now I am older I wish I had got to know her. I feel like I have a need to help older people - I get so much out of talking to Susan.”
“Sometimes she can be down, and I get a real kick out of making her feel better, it’s knowing I can bring her back to feeling better - I really do my best to and it seems to work.”
For Susan, the calls with Eliza are uplifting.
“My husband died very suddenly and I missed him so much. Speaking to Eliza every Thursday helps,” she said.
Susan describes herself as ‘out on a limb’, with her son, grandchildren and great grandchildren scattered all over the country, and poor health meaning she cannot travel, she only communicates with them by phone.
She added: “We all used to live close to each other, but now we are so far apart, we don’t see each other at all.”
“Christmas is particularly hard. I married my husband close to Christmas. It is a difficult time for me.
“I feel like I know Eliza very well. I love hearing about her plans and keeping in touch with little titbits of her life. I look forward to her call every week, I really do.”
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: “Loneliness doesn’t only affect older people over the Christmas period, but because most of us expect to spend this time of the year enjoying ourselves with family and friends it can make those who are unwillingly on their own feel all the more left out and miserable.
“For many lonely older people the festive season also brings back memories of happier times in years gone by, reminding them of partners and other close relatives and friends who are no longer around and who they sorely miss.
“Chronic loneliness is not only horrible to experience day in, day out, it can also have a devastating impact on an older person’s mental and physical health.”
You can find out more about Age UK’s Call In Time service here.