Almost a million (982,200) of those aged 60+ feel lonelier at Christmas time, with those who are single, separated or widowed feeling it the most, according to new figures from Age UK.
As the Charity publishes the new figures showing the stark reality of loneliness amongst older people at this time of year, Age UK has released two short films with actors James Bolam MBE and Miriam Margolyes OBE narrating real life stories of loneliness to support their No one should have no one at Christmas campaign. These poignant films are the real personal stories of Roy and Janet, who are supported by the charities UK telephone befriending service that provides weekly friendship calls.
The overwhelming majority (85 per cent) of those surveyed for the Charity agreed that there should be more help available for lonely older people. Over three-fifths (63 per cent) of this group thought regular visits from a friendly face would be helpful, while nearly half (48 per cent) said the same about a regular weekly phone call.
New analysis shows that 1.2 million older people in England are chronically lonely and have been coping with loneliness for years, so Age UK’s No One Should Have No One at Christmas campaign is raising awareness of the silent suffering that many older people endure as they face the festive season alone. Through the campaign, the Charity is urging people to pledge their support to help tackle the loneliness that is blighting the lives of far too many older people.
Roy, aged 83, whose story features in the film, narrated by actor James Bolam MBE, said: “Loneliness is something I have experienced first-hand and it goes without saying how upsetting it can be. My beautiful wife passed away one year ago and not a day goes by when I don’t miss her dearly. It takes some getting used to, going from spending every single day for the past 55 years with the woman I love, to facing each day without her.
“Joining Age UK’s befriending service has been a great help – my local Age UK helped to set this up and I will be forever grateful. I look forward to my weekly call and visit; I hit it off splendidly with the volunteers I was matched with. I’m feeling much more confident and positive now and would urge anybody who is feeling lonely and missing their loved ones this Christmas to sign up for this service.”
Janet, aged 70, whose story also features in the film, narrated by actress Miriam Margolyes OBE, said: “A lot of people assume that older people are surrounded by friends and family, especially at this time of year. Sadly, that’s not the case for all of us. I’ve dedicated my life to my career and then one day I found myself older and lonely – this wasn’t what I was used to, or what I wanted.
“Joining Age UK’s Call in Time service has without doubt helped me through some very difficult days. My befriender calls me every week and selflessly listens to me. She is a lovely and caring individual and I cannot thank Age UK enough for this help. We discuss all sorts of topics and usually end up having a laugh; which cheers me up. I used to go for days or weeks without talking to anyone at all – it could get to a point where I felt I had forgotten how to speak. Now, thanks to this service, I feel like somebody cares about me again.”
Actress and Age UK Ambassador Miriam Margolyes OBE, said: “I sometimes experience patches of loneliness as my partner works abroad a lot, so when I am alone I really do miss having that regular contact in everyday life – even if it is just eating breakfast or dinner together. It’s heart-breaking to know that so many people face the reality of being lonely everyday – not speaking to anybody at all for days on end is such a sad thought.”
Actor James Bolam MBE, also an Age UK Ambassador, said: “Loneliness amongst older people is an issue that I’m quite familiar with, having played characters that have suffered bereavement in later life and have been left feeling very sad and alone. These roles reflect the real difficulties faced by so many older people – like Roy whose story I told in the Age UK advert – who are lonely, isolated and have no one to rely upon. Having had a small glimpse into this devastating problem, I am honoured to support Age UK.”
New figures for the Charity also show that 1.9 million of those aged 65 and over often feel ignored or invisible, with 1.4 million feeling cut off from society and a third – 3.6 million – agreeing that the television is their main form of company. Yet it is often life events such as bereavement, ill health and complex long term health conditions such as diabetes and arthritis – all more common in later life – that give rise to feelings of loneliness and which if left unaddressed can cause long-term misery. To make matters worse, chronic loneliness can also have serious health consequences, contributing to the development of serious medical conditions, such as heart problems and strokes, mental health issues and dementia.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: “For the vast majority of people Christmas is a joyous and sociable time but for a significant minority it is a thoroughly depressing reminder of just how lonely and miserable they feel all year round.
“We are so grateful to Roy and Janet for sharing their stories and to James and Miriam for using their huge acting talents to help everyone understand just how heart-breaking and serious a condition loneliness is. There is, sadly, no easy or magic solution for loneliness but we all have the capacity to make a difference to the older people in our lives – the friends, relatives and neighbours who we don’t see or speak to enough. A simple phone call or visit, particularly at this time of year when feelings of loneliness can feel especially raw, can really lift the spirits of someone who is going through a difficult time.”
Age UK’s telephone befriending service relies on dedicated volunteers who are matched to lonely and isolated older people based on shared interests, and make regular phone calls to offer friendship, support and practical advice. Although loneliness is a problem all year round, the Charity is calling on people to remember those facing Christmas alone by pledging their support for the campaign. Find out how you can donate, volunteer, get involved and pledge your support at www.ageuk.org.uk/no-one.
Anyone who is experiencing feelings of loneliness and would like to sign up to Age UK’s telephone befriending service should visit www.ageuk.org.uk/no-one or call Age UK Advice free of charge on 0800 169 6565 or contact their local Age UK to see what services are available locally.