In the run up to Christmas, the focus for many people is spending quality time with family, friends and loved ones. For many older people, however this time of year can heighten their sense of isolation.
Shockingly, more than half of older people tell us that loneliness is a major problem. These feelings can be triggered by the loss of someone close, for others it can be the impact of their caring responsibilities or the loss of mobility and independence through ill health.
That's why it’s so important to have safe, comfortable spaces where older people are supported to stay involved, remain active and where their contribution is valued. Age NI day centres provide these spaces and can be a lifeline to many older people. Many clients come for the company and activities. Some attend to take a break from their caring responsibilities at home. Others are dealing with the impact of relationship breakdowns or bereavement.
Age NI day centre staff and volunteers collect clients from their home, travel with them on the bus to the centre and spend time with them, chatting over meals and activities, until it’s time to return home. They leave their troubles at the door, if only for a few hours, and have the time and space to enjoy the company of others.
Day centres are just one part of the solution. We can all do our bit to help older people feel less lonely, particularly at this time of year. Lift the phone to an older family member or friend, or visit an older neighbour you know to make sure they are keeping well. Never underestimate the impact of a friendly voice or smile. A little gesture can make a very big difference.
Linda Robinson is the Chief Executive of Age NI.