“It’ll be lonely this Christmas, without you to hold, it’ll be lonely this Christmas, lonely and cold…”
That’s the chorus of the 1974 number one hit from glam rock band Mud, just one of many Christmas songs that resurface every year. But for too many older people it can also be the stark reality of the festive season.
Many older people, especially those who have lost their partner or live in isolated locations, cope with loneliness all year round. Yet that loneliness and the despondency it brings can be far more pronounced at Christmas time.
Memories of happy family Christmases in the past or the media portrayal of people enjoying Christmas together can all amplify negative feelings for those who are now alone and lonely. In a survey by older people’s charity Independent Age, almost two-fifths (39%) of those surveyed said being on their own for special events like Christmas was the top trigger for loneliness. In addition, more than a quarter (27%) said seeing other people socialising with family and friends triggered those feelings.
In among all the merriment that accompanies Christmas and New Year celebrations, it’s easy to forget that for some people it can be a miserable time when feelings of loneliness are at their peak. If you would like to help combat loneliness at this special time of year, there are many ways you can do it. Several charities run their own campaigns – just type ‘loneliness at Christmas’ into your search engine to see what various organisations do and how you can help.
On a more personal level you might know a relative or a neighbour who will be spending Christmas on their own. Why not invite them to share in some of your Christmas celebrations? It could be the most significant gift you give to anyone this Christmas.
According to the Independent Age Survey, more than a third (35%) of over-75s in the UK say they feel unable to control their feelings of loneliness – that equates to more than 1.8 million people. Worryingly, the survey also found that around one in seven older people (15%) didn’t know what to do the help themselves feel better when loneliness strikes.
To help address that problem, Independent Age has produced a free advice guide called “If you’re feeling lonely: How to stay connected in older age”. It is designed to help people recognise why they might feel lonely, and that feelings of loneliness needn’t be out of their control or last indefinitely. Crucially, the guide includes advice from other older people about what works for them when they are feeling lonely.
Loneliness specifically felt at Christmas is covered in another helpful booklet from Independent Age called “Your guide to a stress-free Christmas”. Other topics covered in this guide include staying in touch with family and friends, planning for family visits, celebrating Christmas with someone with dementia and Christmas in care homes. It also has an extremely useful section on budgeting for Christmas, including a pull-out planner.
Janet Morrison, Chief Executive of Independent Age, said: “People of all ages feel lonely sometimes, but becoming older shouldn’t inevitably mean that you will be lonely. It’s sad to see that so many older people don’t expect feelings of loneliness to go away and think these feelings are out of their control. By taking small steps and changing one thing at a time, it’s possible to reduce your feelings of loneliness.”
You can download copies of the free guides mentioned above from the Independent Age website by clicking here. They are also available in other formats, including large print and as audio files, and if you’re not comfortable using a computer, you can request copies by post by phoning the charity’s free helpline on 0800 319 6789.