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 210.

    Loneliness is not confined to elderly people, nor is it an issue for everyone living alone, but for people who are lonely and isolated, befriending services can help-a volunteer befriender, carefully matched and supported by a befriending co-ordinator, can be a lifeline. Befriending Networks' website (www.befriending.co.uk) has details of services UK wide for potential volunteers and more info.

  • rate this

    Comment number 209.

    I'm 70 - often alone but never lonely. Happy with my own thoughts and memories (and the cats). Church on Christmas morning, then a 3-course meal with all the trimmings, maybe the odd DVD, Facebook &c. A walk or cycle ride, then a snooze. It's perfectly possible to be lonely when surrounded with people, and not in the least lonely when on one's own.

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    Alone is good! Get out of that Christmas rat race of spend, spend ,spend!
    CHRIST'S MASS? Wot's that got to do with Christmas???? One might ask!

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.

    Well, "glad?" to see that I'm not the only lonely non elderly person. Maybe we need some sort of support group (sounds tacky to say that). I'll be alone with the cats and will try to avoid reminders of the holidays

  • rate this

    Comment number 206.

    I can, like many others, cope with loneliness for much of the time.

    The worst time however is now during the build up to the festive season and on the big day itself.

    It's the deluge of fantasy driven adverts, hype and commercialism at 'The most wonderful time of the year' that makes me feel like an outsider looking in on something I just can't fit into.

    Journalistic pity doesn't help either!

  • rate this

    Comment number 205.

    Regardless of the season loneliness can take many forms. Being the only single person at any sort of gathering, being at home on your own just wanting a chat or a cuddle, going to the theatre or cinema on your own so you have no one to share it with can all be forms of loneliness if you have no choice in the matter. And you don't have to be old to experience it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    Being lonely is not just a Christmas event, it is a 365 days a year feeling.

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    @jauntycyclist (111, 119, 139 ...)

    You must be so proud of your christian values the way you scoff at those who you think will be lonely! I make Richard Dawkins look like the Archbishop of Canterbury, yet I will be very happy with family around me thank you. And I wish the best for you too - some christian value from an atheist! Maybe you could learn something and think of those less fortunate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    And just how many of these are Christian? If they are not then it's just another lonely day to look forward to! Anywho I am sick of Christmas (It's been banging out 24/7 on radio, TV and the stores for months now) and WILL be spending the day alone! Roll on the 26th!!!! Back to reality!

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    Having experienced dreadful Christmases in a step-family situation, where every word, gesture, facial expression had to be controlled to avoid a reaction from a very touchy step-parent I love being on my own at Christmas, just me and the dog--thank God I can just relax!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    It isn't only the elderly who will be lonely. There are all the non-resident parents who will not be seeing their children this Christmas. Many will be in custody cases and haven't seen children they love for years. These parents too, mainly men ( 90+% of the time) are coping with a living bereavement day in, day out and Christmas is really hard and lonely for them too. www.fnf-bpm.org.uk

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    @197 speaktruth

    'ageing population' and 'social care' are EVERYTHING to do with politics.

    All Triggle articles are politics.

    I'm afraid you seem to have missed my message for young and old to care for each other, which is definitely not shoddy.

    Happy season you you. :-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    There is a huge difference between being alone and being lonely. I've lived on my own for the best of twenty years, have just turned 60 and am not lonely. I spent one Christmas on my own but still did the whole Christmas dinner thing. It was my choice but others felt sorry for me. I feel desperately sorry for those truly lonely.

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    192-pretty shoddy to bring in your politics to a social issue that has NOTHING to do with politics.
    190--internet does very little to help loneliness of Xmas lunch alone or nights
    187-what a good posting;sums up the sadness and misery of it all whilst offering useful comment
    185-says it all really about the special nature of Xmas

    Happy Xmas to all,especially lonely.

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    The most common misconception about loneliness is that it's as simple as being alone. You can be in a room full of people but still feel the loneliest person in the world - so many people don't get that. Instead of loneliness defined as being alone, it should be defined as being on the outside looking in. Being in company does not always make you feel better, loneliness can be deeper than that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    Am horrified, only 9 more years to become elderly, currently a mere youngster at 66. Will I then have to be lonely on 25 December (6 January in Ethiopia)? I enjoy my own company and have not celebrated Christmas since my son became a teenager many years ago. Hate parties, festivities etc, so boring. Have better things to do with life: grow veg, get fitter, extend flying skills, finish coursework.

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    In a country like Britain and the USA where everyone is so utterly focused on themselves these problems are profound. In more compassionate and modern nations like Sweden, Germany, Denmark and so on people actually look out for one-another at this time of year. In the shallow and soulless Anglo-Saxon world all people care about is getting an I-phone or an XBox and talking about themselves a lot.

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    With more elderly, loss of community spirit, a "couldn't care less" attitude prevalent these days, loneliness at Xmas and rest of year is inevitable---and heart-breaking. As my wife and I reach 60ish and have tried to do our bit over the years by helping make Xmas Dinners etc for the homeless/frail.lonely, we wonder ---having no family--if anyone will bother with us when one of us is left alone ..

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    You don't have to look far to see the real agenda of this Triggle prop.

    Here we go: "the ageing population" and "social care system under such a strain" - his usual diatribe for privatisation wrapped in Santa Claus fur.

    As if a privatised world would have less lonely, or even care.

    Young and old - stay together and help each other.No privatisation!

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    If xmas is not fulfilling - try changing your perspective on 25th Dec


    Blessed Be


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