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Another lonely and anxious Christmas for tens of thousands of older Scots

Published on 01 December 2021 08:54 AM

For many of us, it’s the most wonderful time of the year, bringing family and friends together.

But around 74,000 older people in Scotland will have no one to celebrate with this year, while more than one in three still feel too worried about Covid-19 to enjoy the festive season.

New research from Age Scotland and its sister charity, Age UK, released today (WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 1) has found that more than 105,000 older people in Scotland expect to feel lonely this Christmas.

The survey, carried out by Yonder, revealed that last Christmas was an exceptionally lonely one. An estimated 285,000 people aged 65 and over in Scotland spent the holidays alone last year, largely due to Covid-19 restrictions.

But even with restrictions easing, this Christmas will be far from normal for hundreds of thousands of older Scots.

Almost one in 10 (9 per cent) are too anxious about Covid-19 to spend the holidays with family and friends. A quarter say that they will still feel anxious even when joining in festive celebrations, while 15 per cent fear they will never enjoy a normal Christmas again.

One in 10 (more than 105,000) expect to feel lonely, while seven per cent (74,000) will spend the day alone because they have no one to celebrate with.

However, more than half (51 per cent) say that the disruption caused by Covid-19 means spending Christmas with friends and family is more important than ever this year.

And 43 per cent don’t care about the presents underneath the Christmas tree – they say the best gift would be a call from a loved one.

While loneliness can be more acute over the festive period, Age Scotland is concerned that the pandemic has exacerbated Scotland’s existing epidemic of loneliness and isolation. The charity estimates that there is at least one chronically lonely older person on every street in Scotland, with tens of thousands regularly going a week or more without a friendly chat or phone call.

This is having a serious impact on both physical and mental health. Loneliness significantly increases the risk of heart disease, dementia, strokes, and premature death, as well as leading to depression.

Age Scotland is working with groups and volunteers across the country to reach out to those on their own and spread some festive cheer. The charity has awarded “Winter Warmer” grants to pay for Christmas outings and lunches for those who might otherwise be alone, as well as delivering gifts and cards to those who are at home.

Its Friendship Line advisors will be working over the festive period, offering a friendly voice on the phone to anyone who is feeling alone.

Brian Sloan, Chief Executive of Age Scotland, said:

“We knew that last Christmas was an exceptionally lonely one for older people in Scotland. But this new research paints a stark picture of the devastating impact that the pandemic continues to have on older people, leaving more of them feeling alone and isolated than ever.

“While many of us are looking forward to spending the festive season with family and friends, hundreds of thousands of older Scots still feel too anxious about Covid-19 to enjoy it. For almost two years this deadly virus has taken its toll on their physical and mental health, leaving a significant number feeling they will never experience a normal Christmas again.

“And sadly, an estimated 74,000 say that they have no one to spend the holiday with. This includes large numbers who have been bereaved in the past year, or housebound due to illness or disability. For them, Christmas will just be another day, sitting at home with only their television for company.

“Our Friendship Line regularly takes heart-breaking calls from older people who say they haven’t spoken to anyone for weeks or even feel their lives aren’t worth living anymore.

“As we look to the new year and the recovery, we urgently need action to tackle this hidden public health crisis, and ensure support is there for everyone who needs it in their community.

“Despite the ongoing restrictions, we have been heartened by the efforts of our groups and volunteers across the country to spread some Christmas cheer. Whether it’s delivering cards and gifts, or organising a festive lunch or outing, they are working tirelessly to make sure no one feels forgotten about.

“Our wonderful Friendship Line advisors will also be working over the Christmas period for the first time this year, offering a friendly voice at the end of the phone line for anyone who is on their own.

“And we can all play our part by reaching out to older friends, relatives, or neighbours. It doesn’t have to cost anything – almost half of older people say the best Christmas gift they could receive this year would be a call from a loved one.”

Irene Quinn, from Lanarkshire, a member of the LEAP Project supported by Age Scotland, spoke of the impact that the pandemic had on her and other older people’s mental health and well-being.

She said:

“Covid did affect us greatly, we were quite depressed. You're very vulnerable and you feel so isolated.

“I think that was the shame about this Covid-19, the fear, the very overwhelming fear. I must admit I went through a few periods of feeling very down, very worried about it all."

Age Scotland’s helpline and Friendship Line are available weekdays between 9am and 5pm on 0800 12 44 222, offering advice, support, or simply a chat.

-- Ends --

Notes to editors:

  • Yonder interviewed 226 people aged 65+ in Scotland (2,539 across the UK) by telephone and online between 20-28th October 2021 on behalf of Age UK and Age Scotland.
  • Estimates are based on National Records of Scotland's latest 2020 mid-year population estimates (a total of 1,056,080 people aged 65 and over in Scotland)
  • The research found that 34 per cent of Scottish respondents (more than 1 in 3) were still anxious about Covid-19 over the festive season. Nine per cent were too worried to celebrate with family and friends, while 25 per cent felt anxious despite planning to celebrate with others.

Contact Age Scotland's media team:

Age Scotland provides a seven day a week response service to media enquiries through a dedicated telephone line and email.

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