It’s the time of year when people are often heading home for the holidays, excitedly wrapping gifts and preparing for extravagant family dinners with generations of family and friends around the table.
The stores are filled with festive trimmings, and much-loved Christmas songs remind us how it’s the ‘most wonderful time of the year’ at checkouts across the country.
Yet for many older people, the reality is far from the warm, seasonal world of kith and kin that the TV commercials assure us is on the way.
Across Wolverhampton there are over 13,146 older people who live alone. Amongst this group, a worrying 4660 are in contact with friends and family less than once a month. (National Census, 2011, Age UK, 2016)
Social isolation and loneliness are a problem every day for many older people, but at Christmastime this lack of human contact can often be felt much more acutely. A quick glance out of the curtains on December 25th may reveal a street full of children playing with their new presents, and cars fighting for parking spaces as relatives descend on their loved ones for the day. Yet for that person, their Christmas Day will be spent in isolation, with perhaps only the television for company.
Of course December also brings other challenges; the onset of winter and harsher weather conditions can leave older people struggling to afford to heat their homes, and the bitter cold and icy pavements become a concern when they need to go out to the shops, or attend an important appointment.
Hospitals across the UK are bracing themselves for the massive increase of older patients being admitted to their wards with infections, exacerbations of chronic conditions such as COPD or Asthma, or injuries sustained by potentially life-threatening falls.
Whilst national charities are promoting befriending campaigns and schemes to help tackle social isolation, others like AGE UK also run year round services designed to help older people stay as independent as possible. These include advice about energy efficient modifications to their homes, a handyman service, Information & Advice services, and practical support through the ‘Help at Home’ scheme.
But what can we all do to help support our older friends and neighbours this year?
- Do you have a spare place at the table? Why not invite a neighbour to spend Christmas Day with you. Is there someone who might appreciate that Tupperware container of leftovers?
- Offer to help them get out and about to the shops, GP appointments, etc. Or perhaps see if you can pick up their groceries and prescriptions for them.
- Not seen your older neighbour for a few days? Check in on them and make sure they’re okay. This is especially important in colder weather!
For further information about the services provided by AGE UK, or to volunteer with their organisation, please visit: http://www.ageuk.org.uk/wolverhampton/news–campaigns/no-one-should-have-no-one-at-christmas/