Will you be lonely this Christmas?

A younger person holding an older person's hands People are being urged to look out for elderly neighbours this winter

For most people this is probably the busiest time of year.

Nights spent at parties and catching up with friends, culminating with a Christmas surrounded by family.

But the festive period is not like that for everyone.

Age UK estimates about 450,000 will be spending this Christmas alone.

A combination of the ageing population and the fact families are dispersed across the country - and abroad for that matter - means it is not always easy to get together.

Caroline Abrahams, of Age UK, says it is a "chilling" thought, which combined with the shorter days and poorer weather, results in the festive period being one of the most vulnerable times of year for the frailest in society.

But, sadly, the problem is not just confined to Christmas.

Research for the Campaign to End Loneliness shows that more than half of over 75s now live alone with many saying that television is their main source of company.


One in 10 report only having contact with family, friends and neighbours once a month.

It equates to over 800,000 people in England being classified as "chronically lonely".

Kate Jopling, director of the Campaign to End Loneliness, says the situation is "shocking" and desperately needs to be addressed.

She says research has shown showing that loneliness can have significant impact on health - both mentally and physically - with one study even suggesting that it was "as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day".

To be fair, the government and NHS has recognised there is a problem that needs addressing.

A Winter Friends campaign has just been launched appealing for a return to an "old-fashioned sense of neighbourliness" by encouraging people to check on elderly friends and neighbours over the winter months.

The aim is to get 100,000 signed up to free alerts that reminds them when bad weather is forecast and gives them tips on how they can help.

These include:

  • Setting aside time aside to drop in on an older neighbour or friend once a week - more often if the weather turns very cold.
  • Checking their home is warm enough. The main living area should be around 21°C and bedrooms should be 18°C.
  • Making sure the person is eating well and has some non-perishable foods in the cupboard in case they can't leave the house for a few days.
  • Offering to pick a prescription or giving them a lift to the GP - many elderly people take regular medicines.
  • Helping to keep them active by offering to walk with them if they are not confident, clearing snow from their path and making sure they have grippy shoes and a good coat, hat and gloves.

Meanwhile, a 24-hour phone service - Silver Line - has also been launched with Lottery money to offer the over 75s friendship, information and advice.

These initiatives will no doubt help.

But with the social care system under such strain (councils are cutting back on the home help they provide) not to mention the concern over the cost of energy, it promises to be a tough few months for many.

Nick Triggle Article written by Nick Triggle Nick Triggle Health correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    I have a very good friend in Perth Australia who will be on his own this Christmas at the age of 94 and he likes it that way. OK to go to someones for Christmas dinner but that's it. Just love the peace and hates all the fuss and noise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    We open at Christmas and people come for a dinner and a few glasses of wine it is open for a number of hours. But we nearly closed because of these cuts. On an average day we see 15 Elderly and at Christmas we will expect 10 to 15 for dinner it will cost about £100 to £200 do you think the MP's will pay for this?

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    7. Outside the Marginals said: "Being alone is OK, it's the damned forced cheerfulness and rubbish TV over the Retailmas period that makes you feel lonely.

    Wish I could hibernate for a fortnight."

    You and me both. I'd make it a couple of months, though.
    Every year I hate the whole build up, ghastly commercialism, expense, & compulsory catering & entertaining even more than the previous year.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    We have created phenomenon by developing a culture that places emphasis on independence e.g. separate homes, little contact with elders, immediate family first. These are western "grown-up" symbols. Not all cultures live like this. In 1996, 24% of all people were living as a part of extended family - parents, children, aunts, uncles, grandparents...
    I wonder what the happiness differential is?

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    It is not just old people that get lonely. About time some of the focus of welfare etc. was on working-age people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    As well as the elderly, there are millions of 'singletons' in the age bracket 40 - 65 in the UK. Many have no close family ties and will spend Xmas alone. Some - like me - are relatively happy with this, but others find this a distressing time. They are working alongside you now. I'm not suggesting any action, just pointing out a fact of 21st century western life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    What is wrong with being alone? Society is currently obsessed with being in constant contact with everyone else, fakebook, twitter (emphasis on the TWIT) and it's unnecessary.

    I enjoy being by myself, I don't like spending too much time with family and the missus is the only one I can tolerate being around for extended periods of time.
    Get a grip!

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    I love been alone I buy a takeaway the night before for dinner get some dvds tv is rubbish plenty of wine 24 hrs later its all over. once the kids are over 16 Christmas is just another day

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Why do we look to do things like this at Christmas, just to make yourself feel better, how about investing on keeping community centres open, more and more are closing due to cuts from the government, these are the places the elderly go to meet with other. We now have to look at private investment. The government are idiots.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    My husband and I have a couple of friends to struggle terribly with depression at this time of year, and neither of them really has any family that they go to. We always try to have them round for an evening at some point during the holiday season - they've told us it does help them to feel less alone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Why does everybody think that being alone is bad? Being alone, by choice, is for me a great thing, and I don't care about specific days. I would love to just stay home at Christmas, reading, watching DVDs, just relaxing.
    I love being alone, and I wish people would stop these articles that bring a stigma. For information: "being alone" does not equal "being lonely".

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    @17 Topsy Turvy.

    I'm sure it is. But you don't have to wait for flipping Christmas to do that!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Why are articles on loneliness always exclusively focused on the elderly?'

    I totally agree with these comments. While I was in my 20s, I had times when I was very lonely, having moved away from friends and family for work. It's not always easy to meet new people, whether you are 20 or 80.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Spare a thought for the elderly this Christmas - those who are truly alone, having lost a lifelong partner.

    Something as simple as asking if they want anything from the shops can be a massive heartwarmer for them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    I'm married with children now but we don't make a fuss for xmas. It's a long enforced holiday at a cold, dark time of year. I spent many happy years single and got one or two skiing trips in at xmas, last minute flights, phrasebooks, public transport, surprise accommodation and agreeable strangers. Lovely memories.

    The midwinter light show is nice; otherwise the 'festival' has lost its point.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    being alone this time of year would be made a lot easier if there was something half decent to watch on TV. Same old recycled crap every year plus the usual host of overly dramatic christmas specials

    it's all circumstantial, not just restricted to the elderly. People die, "family" disapear, friends get hooked up. Cest La Vie, get on with it.

    lonliness doesn't necessarily mean you're unhappy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    6 shabutie said: "Why are articles on loneliness always exclusively focused on the elderly?"

    Excellent point. Whilst the elderly can become isolated as they lose friends and family & often have less mobility or no transport, loneliness per se can affect people of all ages & walks of life.

    Also, not everyone actually relishes all this enforced seasonal visiting and getting together.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Many thousands will DIE because they cannot afford to keep warm enough, because energy companys have installed higher cost pre-payment metres that these pensioners cannot afford.

    But of course energy companys do not turn energy off, it is turned around so that pensioners get the blame for their own deaths for not feeding pre-payment metres.

    Lest we forget these pensioners came through WWII

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    As other have said these campaigns are focused on the elderly but like myself there are many 20 somethings who will be alone this Christmas.
    I'm 28, no boyfriend no children and only company I have is myself just as the only presents i'll have are the ones I buy myself for the sake of 'joining in'

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Being lonely is like smoking fifteen cigarettes a day. Sadly the forum rules prevent me from suggesting where that "fact" was pulled from.


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