Almost 2 million older people are expecting to feel lonely this Christmas[i] – including almost a third of older widows and widowers[ii] – according to Age UK’s new research for its No one should have no one campaign, which is asking for urgent donations so it can be there for every older person who will be facing a deeply challenging time alone.
At the beginning of November, 6.1 million people aged 60 and over said that they were feeling lonely[iii]. With a second national lockdown in England in place and the future uncertain, around 7.7 million people aged 65 and over – more than half of the UK’s older population – are concerned that COVID-19 restrictions might mean that they cannot see family or friends this Christmas[iv], potentially making this festive period the loneliest and scariest ever experienced for many older people.
Winter is always a tough time for older people – dark nights, short days and cold, often wet weather make it harder to get outside. These challenges combined with pandemic restrictions mean that chance encounters – like catching up with neighbours on the street or friendly chats at the supermarket – are less likely right now, yet they can make a big difference to those who are almost always on their own, or feeling lonely.
Research carried out by Age UK has previously found that following months of staying inside, some older people have lost confidence in doing day-to-day activities they previously took in their stride, and are no longer taking pleasure from things they used to enjoy[v]. With the worst of winter still very much to come and COVID-19 continuing to represent a threat to older people, the Charity is worried that many will find the next few weeks and months particularly tough to navigate, especially if they are on their own.
The good news from these new findings is that people have stepped up to support our older population during the pandemic, which has made a huge and much appreciated difference – 5.8 million older people say they wouldn’t have got through the pandemic without their friends[vi], highlighting the power of friendships and human connection, which older people need now more than ever before.
However, while 45% of older people have had someone call them for a chat because of their situation during the pandemic[vii], sadly this isn’t the case for everyone. Recent ONS figures show that 2.2 million of over 60s say that they haven’t had anyone to talk to about their worries[viii] and sadly 2.2 million said they felt like they are a burden on others[ix].
For older people like these, Age UK will be their lifeline this Christmas. The Charity is calling for donations to help fund its friendship and advice services, demand for which has soared since the coronavirus outbreak began in March.
Roy, 80, lives on his own after losing his beloved wife, Maggie, over 12 years ago. He decided to join Age UK’s Telephone Friendship Service, which provides many older people with their one chance for regular contact and conversation, as he was feeling lonely not having much family live nearby and few friends he could turn to. “When you lose your partner, you can eventually come to terms with it, but you never get over it. Life’s very lonely until you find somebody, it can be difficult to feel so alone. Even just going to the shops and someone saying “hello” can make your day go so much better.
“Christmases are especially tough – Maggie used to make sure we had family time, which was really good. After she died, I had to try and get used to being alone. One year I wasn’t feeling well, so I stayed at home alone, and it meant that my only companion at Christmas was the TV. I was just on my own. It wasn’t easy. But that’s most days, not just Christmas. It’s looking like I’ll be on my own again for Christmas this year.
“For the last three years, through Age UK I’ve been chatting to a woman called Jeanette – she’s so lovely to talk to. We talk about everything. I was delighted straight away, right after our very first chat. It’s been great every day since! She phones every Wednesday, and it’s lovely to be able to just talk to someone, especially as I love to chat. I look forward to the calls very much. The calls make a hell of a difference. Life is so lonely when you’re on your own. When we hang up the phone, I always wish the conversations hadn’t ended. When I’m on my own, I can be really fed up and depressed sometimes. But if somebody picks up the phone or I ring somebody else, it’s a different me. To know that Age UK are there for me to reach out to if I’m feeling down, or miserable, it means a lot.”
Age UK is also encouraging everyone to be friendly to the older people in their communities – the survey found that almost 2 million older people said they wouldn’t have got through the pandemic without the kindness of strangers[x]. Age UK’s new figures show that one in five older people (22%) have had someone help them by collecting their prescriptions or medicine during the pandemic[xi] and a third (33%) of older people have had someone help them by shopping for essentials (e.g. food and toiletries)[xii].
There are lots of simple things everyone can do to help:
- Keep in touch: Try to check in regularly with your older relatives, friends and neighbours to ask how they’re feeling, and find out if there’s anything they need. If you’re unable to visit in person there’s still plenty you can do to show you care – a phone or video call, try making homemade Christmas cards, letters or even small gifts.
- Lend a hand: if you’re able to, be a good neighbour by offering simple, immediate assistance to older people nearby, such as offering to pick up shopping or run errands. When you drop off any shopping knock on the door and step 2 metres back first, leave any bags on the doorstep and make sure your neighbour safely receives them. Visit www.ageuk.org.uk/neighbourly to find out about neighbourly volunteering.
- Share these numbers: for practical information and advice, Age UK Advice: 0800 169 65 65. For a cheerful chat, day or night, The Silver Line: 0800 470 80 90.
- Fundraise for Age UK: With many of us staying at home now’s the chance to get involved, raise much-needed money and support vulnerable older people through the pandemic and beyond. From a physical activity challenge to virtual supper club, fundraising ideas and resources are available at www.ageuk.org.uk/fundraise.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said:
“This seems set to be a festive period like we have never experienced before, and not one any of us would want to navigate on our own. At the best of times, Christmas can be bitter-sweet for many older people, but this year they are going to need our support even more than usual. At Age UK we were thrilled to hear older people paying tribute to all the friends, neighbours – and strangers – who had reached out to offer them help during the first wave, but the fact is we know that some older people missed out, and are likely to do so again. We want to be there with anyone who finds themselves in that position this winter, but we can only do it with the public’s support, so please do donate to our campaign this year if you can.”
Dame Judi Dench, Age UK ambassador, said:
“We’ve heard so many heart-breaking stories this year of older people being cut off from their loved ones, through the restrictions which we’ve all had to follow and wanting to keep people safe from catching and spreading the virus. And now when we would normally be looking forward to Christmas celebrations and getting together to bring some cheer, many older people are facing their most difficult winter ever.
“I’ve been a supporter of Age UK for many years but their work has never been more important than it is now. We can all do something to help, whether that’s checking on an older friend or relative, helping someone in your area or making a donation, please think about how you can support older people today.”
This winter will be like no other, yet far too many older people are facing this challenging and uncertain time alone. For many older people, Age UK will be their lifeline this Christmas. Age UK is raising urgently needed funds so it can continue to be there for anyone who needs help: now more than ever, no one should have no one. Find out more or donate at www.ageuk.org.uk/christmas-appeal.
Anyone who needs support, is worried about an older relative or friend or wants to find out more about Age UK’s Telephone Friendship Service can get in touch by calling Age UK Advice free of charge on 0800 169 6565 (8am-7pm) or visit www.ageuk.org.uk. Any older person looking for a cheerful chat can call The Silver Line’s free helpline, day or night, on 0800 470 80 90.