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Well over a million older people expect to be lonely this Christmas

Published on 01 December 2021 12:01 AM

  • A friendly phone call or visit is the best Christmas present many older people say they can receive
  • Age UK appeals for funds to meet high demand for its Telephone Friendship and Advice Services, and encourages everyone to get in touch with older friends and relatives this Christmas time

For many of us the festive season is a highlight of the year, but new research from Age UK shows a massive 1.4 million older people are expecting to feel lonely this Christmas[i], and worrying numbers are feeling depressed and anxious about the prospect of spending it alone.

However, the analysis 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. The Charity is also urgently appealing for people to donate to its Make Christmas a Little Brighter campaign, to help it meet an upsurge in demand for its telephone-based services, to support those that need it the most.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on the nation’s mental health, and older people have been hit hardest in terms of mortality and have often found the restrictions and lockdowns very isolating and hard to bear.  

The Charity’s new survey shows that nearly a million older people don’t have anyone to celebrate the festive period with this year[ii], and when it comes to spending Christmas alone this year, around 675,000 over-65s are feeling fed up about this[iii], around 625,000 are feeling depressed[iv], around 400,000 feel forgotten[v] and around 250,000 feel anxious[vi].

We know that loneliness can be more prevalent during the festive period and when the Charity spoke to older people in August about their Christmas plans, almost 1.5 million over 65s said they usually feel lonelier at Christmas than any other time of year[vii], and around one million said they will be eating dinner alone on Christmas Day[viii].

But loneliness is something that can affect those in later life all year round too, and recent ONS statistics show that around two million (23%) people aged 70+ reported feeling lonely at least some of the time[ix].

Loneliness, along with many other experiences and factors often faced in later life, can have an adverse impact on some older people’s overall mental health and wellbeing. ONS statistics also show that around 2.5 million people aged 70+ have high levels of anxiety[x] and around half a million low levels of happiness[xi], highlighting just how precarious their state of wellbeing is for significant numbers of older people.

However, more optimistically, Age UK’s new research also highlighted that there are some simple ways we can all help make Christmas a little brighter for older people who struggle during this time. More than five million older people say the best present they could get this year would be a phone call from a loved one[xii], and when asked what could make their Christmas a little brighter, around four million said someone popping round to visit them[xiii], and around 2.5 million older people said having a cup of tea with someone[xiv]

71-year-old Michael knows just how vital a phone call can be, especially at this time of year. Michael lives alone in London 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”.

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[xv] 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. The Charity has launched its Make Christmas a Little Brighter campaign to raise awareness of the need for its services and the issues so many are facing. Funds raised will also help to support Age UK’s Advice Line, which is open 365 days a year including Christmas Day, and Age UK’s wonderful subsidiary charity The Silver Line Helpline, which is open 24 hours a day for a friendly chat for anybody who needs it. To donate please visit: www.ageuk.org.uk/brighterchristmas

As part of the campaign, the Charity is also calling on everyone to come together this Christmas season and reach out to older relatives and friends, and other older people who live nearby.

There are plenty of simple and very practical things we can all do to help older people feel included and supported over the festive season, but this year especially Age UK is appealing to everyone to phone an older friend or relative at Christmas time, or pop round to say hello, with the Charity’s research making clear that these are the things that older people who are alone would most value.

Other important ways to support older people during this time include:

  • Sharing time together over a cup of tea or coffee
  • Lending a hand around the home or collecting shopping
  • Giving out these useful numbers: For practical information and advice, Age UK Advice: 0800 169 65 65. For a cheerful chat, day or night, The Silver Line Helpline: 0800 4 70 80 90
  • Fundraising for Age UK:Spread some festive cheer by taking part in Age    UK’s brand new Jingle Bakes Christmas bake sale. Just sign up for your hosting pack and invite friends, family and colleagues to enjoy their favourite festive treats at home, at work or at school. Find out more at: ageuk.org.uk/jinglebakes

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: “Our research shows that rather than being something to look forward to, Christmas is now looming into view as a potential ordeal for those older people who feel intensely lonely and alone. It’s not hard to see why: if you’ve no one to spend time or raise a glass with, it can be pretty miserable, “like being in permanent lockdown”, as one older person told us this year.

“Many older people will enjoy a wonderful, convivial Christmas with family and friends, but the numbers who won’t are worryingly high – well in excess of a million aged over 65, according to our analysis. That’s a lot of potential unhappiness spread across the land.

“The good news though is that for many older people in this position, a friendly phone call or visit turns out to be the best Christmas present of all: the gift of kindness and friendship, which costs nothing and is so easy to offer, yet so gratefully received.

“That’s why this year we are encouraging everyone to reach out to the older people around them with a phone call or visit, or an invitation for a cup of coffee or tea. These straightforward things make a big difference if you are a lonely older person and it’s the only chance you’ll have of a cheerful chat that day or, for some, that week. Simple things like these literally brighten up their day.

“This Christmas, like every Christmas, Age UK is determined that no one should have no one, but demand for our Telephone Friendship Services is at an all-time high – no surprise perhaps given the impact of the pandemic and what we’ve discovered about how many older people are feeling, from our research. We want to help everyone who asks us for telephone based friendship, information or advice, so please donate to our Make Christmas a Little Brighter campaign if you can. You’ll be making a big difference.”

Dame Helen Mirren, Age UK ambassador, said: “It’s heart breaking to hear that so many older people don’t have anyone to share Christmas with this year, especially after the past 18 months everyone’s had.  That’s why I’m supporting Age UK’s annual campaign to help Make Christmas a Little Brighter for older people. 

“There are very simple ways we can all make a difference to those who struggle during this time of year.  A friendly phone call or a visit for a cup of tea with an older person in your life could really brighten their day and help them feel connected again.  But Age UK also needs your support to continue to run its vital services, providing comfort, reassurance and support to those older people who don’t have anyone to turn to.

“Please give generously and support the fantastic work of Age UK to help them be there for older people most in need.”

 Len Goodman, ex Strictly Judge, TV personality and Age UK ambassador, said: “Sadly there are a lot of lonely older people in our communities all around us and we should, especially this year, do all we can to reach out and connect with one another.  That’s why I’m supporting Age UK’s winter campaign to help Make Christmas a Little Brighter this year.

“There are simple things we can all do to play our part.  Check in on an older friend, relative or neighbour to see how they’re doing!  Maybe they need some help getting shopping in or would like to join you for a cuppa and a natter in the lead up to Christmas.  Something like a simple conversation could help brighten up an older person’s day and give them a much-needed boost.

“Age UK run fantastic services to be there for those who don’t have anyone to turn to, but they need your help.  Please donate what you can this Christmas to help Age UK continue its great work.”

Dev Griffin, radio presenter and Age UK ambassador, said: “I’m very proud to be supporting Age UK’s Make Christmas a Little Brighter campaign. I think there is so much we can do to try and help tackle loneliness among older people in our communities.   

“We’ve all experienced the feeling of loneliness and isolation in some way this past year or so, whether it’s not being able to socialise and see your friends or staying at home a lot more than we’re used to. Take a few moments to imagine how tough it’s been for older people - this is the everyday reality for so many.

“Over the past few years, I’ve been working with Age UK to see first-hand just how important it is to talk to the older generation.  A simple conversation can brighten up an older person’s day and remind them how it feels to be connected to the community around them.  They were all young once and have incredible stories and opinions to share. Age UK do a fantastic job of bringing people together and providing them with support in their later years but they need your help to continue the good work.

“Please donate what you can to Age UK and make a small change to your usual routine this Christmas by reaching out to an older person in your life who might need you more than you know.”

Anyone who needs support, is worried about an older relative or friend, or wants to find out more about Age UK’s friendship services 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 4 70 80 90.

To find out more about local Age UKs and the services they provide for older people in their areas, please visit: www.ageuk.org.uk/services/in-your-area/

 

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: Dec 01 2021

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