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This Christmas set to be the loneliest yet: more than half the older population are concerned they won’t see friends and family this Christmas

Published on 24 November 2020 12:00 AM

  • Age UK’s No one should have no one campaign calls for vital donations so it can be there for those who have no one to turn to.
  • New findings show the public has stepped up to support older people through the pandemic, and we need to keep the support going through the winter.

This Christmas set to be the loneliest yet: more than half the older population are concerned they won’t see friends and family this Christmas
Age UK’s No one should have no one campaign calls for vital donations so it can be there for those who have no one to turn to.

New findings show the public has stepped up to support older people through the pandemic, and we need to keep the support going through the winter.

Almost 2 million older people are expecting to feel lonely this Christmas – including almost a third of older widows and widowers – according to Age UK’s new research for its No one should have no one campaign, which is asking for urgent donations so it can be there for every older person who will be facing a deeply challenging time alone.

At the beginning of November, 6.1 million people aged 60 and over said that they were feeling lonely . With a second national lockdown in England in place and the future uncertain, around 7.7 million people aged 65 and over – more than half of the UK’s older population – are concerned that COVID-19 restrictions might mean that they cannot see family or friends this Christmas , potentially making this festive period the loneliest and scariest ever experienced for many older people.

Winter is always a tough time for older people - dark nights, short days and cold, often wet weather make it harder to get outside. These challenges combined with pandemic restrictions mean that chance encounters - like catching up with neighbours on the street or friendly chats at the supermarket - are less likely right now, yet they can make a big difference to those who are almost always on their own, or feeling lonely.

Research carried out by Age UK has previously found that following months of staying inside, some older people have lost confidence in doing day-to-day activities they previously took in their stride, and are no longer taking pleasure from things they used to enjoy . With the worst of winter still very much to come and COVID-19 continuing to represent a threat to older people, the Charity is worried that many will find the next few weeks and months particularly tough to navigate, especially if they are on their own.
The good news from these new findings is that people have stepped up to support our older population during the pandemic, which has made a huge and much appreciated difference - 5.8 million older people say they wouldn’t have got through the pandemic without their friends , highlighting the power of friendships and human connection, which older people need now more than ever before.

However, while 45% of older people have had someone call them for a chat because of their situation during the pandemic , sadly this isn’t the case for everyone. Recent ONS figures show that 2.2 million of over 60s say that they haven’t had anyone to talk to about their worries and sadly 2.2 million said they felt like they are a burden on others.

For older people like these, Age UK will be their lifeline this Christmas. The Charity is calling for donations to help fund its friendship and advice services, demand for which has soared since the coronavirus outbreak began in March. 

Marjorie, 98, lives on her own in an independent living apartment and doesn't have any family or friends nearby. After beginning to feel lonely, Marjorie joined Age UK's Telephone Friendship Service. "As you might imagine, at 98, it is lonely on your own. When you've been like me, being very independent throughout my life, the loneliness is like a nothingness. I just miss my life. Thinking about the people I knew at school, I think I'm the only one around now. All my old friends and work colleagues in the WAF have been gone ages. People move away, and then they die.

"During lockdown, I didn't get to see anyone, we couldn't have visitors, and I had to stay in my flat. Because of the virus, I haven't been out for over six months, I don't get up to a lot. I'm going blind, and my hearing has been very bad, so I can't watch the TV, I can't read or write. I used to like cooking and gardening, but I can't do either of them. I enjoy listening to talking books from the library. I normally just go to bed and listen to them there because it's more comfortable.

"I always tell people I'd like to go to sleep on Christmas eve and not wake up until New Year’s Day and miss the whole thing. In previous years I've been invited out to various Christmas lunches, but this means I celebrate early and I'm alone on Christmas Day. This year I'll take Christmas as it comes, I don't have any plans, but Christmas without friends is no fun.

"I really enjoy the Age UK telephone calls. It is something I look forward to because there is a friendship there - I get on with them very well and it does give me a lift, especially when you're on your own. It's like having someone else in the room with me. I imagine us there together having a chat. It means a lot that Age UK are there for me when I need them."

Age UK is also encouraging everyone to be friendly to the older people in their communities – the survey found that almost 2 million older people said they wouldn't have got through the pandemic without the kindness of strangers . Age UK’s new figures show that one in five older people (22%) have had someone help them by collecting their prescriptions or medicine during the pandemic and a third (33%) of older people have had someone help them by shopping for essentials (e.g. food and toiletries) .
There are lots of simple things everyone can do to help:

• Keep in touch: Try to check in regularly with your older relatives, friends and neighbours to ask how they’re feeling, and find out if there’s anything they need. If you’re unable to visit in person there’s still plenty you can do to show you care – a phone or video call, try making homemade Christmas cards, letters or even small gifts.

• Lend a hand: if you’re able to, be a good neighbour by offering simple, immediate assistance to older people nearby, such as offering to pick up shopping or run errands. When you drop off any shopping knock on the door and step 2 metres back first, leave any bags on the doorstep and make sure your neighbour safely receives them. 

• Share these numbers: for practical information and advice, Age UK Advice: 0800 169 65 65. For a cheerful chat, day or night, The Silver Line: 0800 470 80 90.

• Fundraise for Age UK: With many of us staying at home now's the chance to get involved, raise much-needed money and support vulnerable older people through the pandemic and beyond. From a physical activity challenge to virtual supper club, fundraising ideas and resources are available at www.ageuk.org.uk/fundraise.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: "This seems set to be a festive period like we have never experienced before, and not one any of us would want to navigate on our own. At the best of times, Christmas can be bitter-sweet for many older people, but this year they are going to need our support even more than usual. At Age UK we were thrilled to hear older people paying tribute to all the friends, neighbours - and strangers - who had reached out to offer them help during the first wave, but the fact is we know that some older people missed out, and are likely to do so again. We want to be there with anyone who finds themselves in that position this winter, but we can only do it with the public's support, so please do donate to our campaign this year if you can."

Dame Judi Dench, Age UK ambassador, said: “We’ve heard so many heart-breaking stories this year of older people being cut off from their loved ones, through the restrictions which we’ve all had to follow and wanting to keep people safe from catching and spreading the virus. And now when we would normally be looking forward to Christmas celebrations and getting together to bring some cheer, many older people are facing their most difficult winter ever.

“I’ve been a supporter of Age UK for many years but their work has never been more important than it is now. We can all do something to help, whether that’s checking on an older friend or relative, helping someone in your area or making a donation, please think about how you can support older people today.”

This winter will be like no other, yet far too many older people are facing this challenging and uncertain time alone. For many older people, Age UK will be their lifeline this Christmas. Age UK is raising urgently needed funds so it can continue to be there for anyone who needs help: now more than ever, no one should have no one. Find out more or donate at www.ageuk.org.uk/christmas-appeal.

Anyone who needs support, is worried about an older relative or friend or wants to find out more about Age UK’s Telephone Friendship Service can get in touch by calling Age UK Advice free of charge on 0800 169 6565 (8am-7pm) or visit www.ageuk.org.uk. Any older person looking for a cheerful chat can call The Silver Line’s free helpline, day or night, on 0800 470 80 90.

-- Ends --

Notes to editors

Age UK

We work with our national partners, Age Scotland, Age Cymru and Age NI and our local Age UK partners in England (together the Age UK Family). We also work internationally for people in later life as a member of the DEC and with our sister charity Help Age International.

Age UK believes that everyone should have the opportunity to make the most of later life, whatever their circumstances. We provide free information, advice and support to over six million people; commercial products and services to over one million customers; and research and campaign on the issues that matter to people in later life. Our work focuses on five key areas: money matters, health and well-being, home and care, work and training and leisure and lifestyle.

Age UK is a charitable company limited by guarantee and registered in England (registered charity number 1128267 and company number 6825798). Age Concern England and Help the Aged (both registered charities), and their trading and other associated companies merged on the 1st April 2009. Together they have formed the Age UK Group ("we"). Charitable services are offered through Age UK and commercial products are offered by the Charity's trading companies, which donate their net profits to Age UK (the Charity).

For more information

Contact the Age UK Media team on 020 3033 1430 (out of hours: 07071 243 243).

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Last updated: Jun 30 2021

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