Christmas is traditionally a time spent celebrating with friends and family, exchanging gifts and having fun. For the 500,000 older people expected to spend Christmas alone, however, Christmas isn’t such a joyful occasion.
Loneliness is a growing issue for the older population – at Christmas and all year round. Last year Friends of the Elderly launched its Future of Loneliness report, which found that over five million older people in the UK are affected by loneliness, with more than a million (1 in 10 older people) saying they often feel lonely. The research also predicts that demographic change alone will drive up the number of lonely older people in the UK by 40 per cent over the next 15 years.
When you have friends and family and are surrounded by people, it’s hard to imagine what it’s like to be without anyone and all alone. Having a lack of friends is a crucial predictor of loneliness – further research shows that loneliness can be as harmful to health as smoking and obesity and can cause depression and feelings of low self-worth.
To support older people facing Christmas Day alone, Friends of the Elderly is working with Community Christmas to encourage people to Be a Friend by holding activities on Christmas Day. An activity can be anything from a Christmas lunch in a village hall or tea and Christmas cake in the community centre, to a Christmas morning walk or a meet up at the local pub – any of these suggestions would provide an opportunity for older people who would otherwise be alone to share the company of others.
Activities can be listed on the Community Christmas website, for free, so older people or others on their behalf can identify somewhere local for to spend the day. There is also a dedicated call centre, which receives hundreds of calls in the run up to Christmas from older people looking for an activity to attend.
To find out how you can get involved and ideas of activities you can organise visit www.fote.org.uk/christmas
Friends of the Elderly’s Be a Friend campaign encourages people to look out for older people in their community not just at Christmas but all year round. These simple ideas of how to Be a Friend at Christmas can open the door to build lasting relationships:
- When out and about, wish an older person you meet a ‘Happy Christmas’ and stop for a chat
- When writing Christmas cards for friends and family, write an extra one for an older neighbour then drop it round in person
- Invite an older neighbour over for a drink and a mince pie, or for a festive drink at your local pub
- Whether you’re off to the pantomime, the Christmas market or a carol service, invite an older neighbour to join you and your family for a festive day out
- Ask an older neighbour to join you at a Boxing Day football match, or to come over watch the fixtures on TV
It’s easy to Be a Friend all year around, for more ideas and to make your promise visit www.beafriendtoday.org.uk