Christmas has most of us rushing to book tickets, buy gifts and decorate the tree with friends and family. However, this is not the case for the over 200, 000 elderly people in the UK who are going to spend the holidays alone. For the millions of elderly living without company, Christmas is a season of loneliness.
The holidays can be especially challenging due to the added pressures of social celebrations which they are used to spending time with their loved ones. In fact, an estimated 200, 000 people will not hear from any friends or family throughout the month of December.
Loneliness can be life-altering for the elderly who are experiencing it but is also a minefield for those of us who want to help, but don’t know where to start. Studies from AgeUK show that older people are twice as likely to develop Alzheimers when living alone, without company.
Findings also show that nearly a million, 928, 000, older people feel lonelier over the holidays, with widowed elders being the most affected. Likewise, around 1.4 million older people admitted that Christmas isn’t a special day for them and just passes them by.
‘Adopt a grandparent’
85 year old Jose from Surrey has not seen his grandchildren in over a year and is not sure where he’ll be spending Christmas this year: ‘’Two of my children live abroad and one has moved to Manchester, but the journey there is a bit too long for me.’’ Jose instead travels into London once a week to be able to meet and talk to new people. He admits it’s hard, but thinks it’s important for elders to take initiative and get out there.
The US has created several Adopt-A-Grandparent programs where university students are matched with an elderly person at a nursing home. They set up a series of activities and events to stimulate social interaction and have even been proven to alleviate depression or depression-like symptoms in those living in nursing homes.
Often times, the students become close with their adopted grandparent and visit them frequently even over the holiday season when loneliness amongst the elderly is at its highest.
University students were asked if they would be interested in implementing Adopt-A-Grandparent programs in the UK, specifically during the holiday season. One student agreed that it would be mutually beneficial for both the student and the elderly person: “I think that’s a great idea because I think sometimes uni students, especially international students don’t have anywhere to go so it would be nice to have groups of people who don’t have anywhere to go for Christmas be together.”
Some students would even be willing to not only spend time with the elderly but also invite them to their holiday celebrations with their family: “It would be something I would be interested in. I’d discuss it with my family [and] like potentially we could all adopt one each. You know, the more the merrier, right?”
There are several charities in the country that aim to combat loneliness such as; Silver Line, Re-engage and Age UK who recently just released a Christmas campaign.
‘No one should have no one’
Age UK’s Christmas 2019 campaign, titled “No one should have no one” tackles loneliness amongst the elderly over the upcoming festive season. The campaign is accompanied by the release of a heart-breaking short film titled: “Just another day” which shows the monotonous life of a lonely widower as December passes her by.
The campaign aims to gain support and donations to help the charity tackle these issues. The charity has provided a telephone befriending service which provides regular calls to isolated or lonely elderly, even on Christmas day. Anyone that has a spare couple of hours a week can volunteer as a befriender for Age UK. Volunteers can visit an older person in their home or accompany them to a social activity.
The charity says volunteering can be the most beneficial way to help tackle loneliness: ‘’Whether you’re helping a loved one or a total stranger, you will gain a new friendship and a unique holiday experience’’.