Christmas is a time for family and friends to come together, don paper crowns, eat too much turkey and then slump in front of telly for the EastEnders Christmas special.
But for others, particularly older people, Christmas serves only as a reminder of how they have no one to share 'The Most Wonderful Time of the Year' with.
With all the sentimentality and nostalgia of the season, it can be distressing to think that there will be millions of people out there who will be sat in on their own for the entire festive season with only their television to keep them company. But according to figures released from a number of charities supporting the elderly, loneliness is a growing problem amongst the UK populace.
This post will look at some facts and statistics on the subject of loneliness at Christmas and look at some of the ways in which you can reach out to the lonely and less-fortunate at this time of year. Perhaps you have a friend or relative who you have lost contact with? Hopefully this post will inspire you to find their address or telephone number and get back in touch with them too, whether they're elderly and alone, or simply have a question mark over their heads in terms of what you think they might be getting up to this Christmas.
Fall in Social Interaction
Figures from the Office of National Statistics released this year reveal that the number of hours we spend interacting with people has fallen dramatically over the last 25 years. The survey also found that:
The proportion of adults who now live alone has gone from 9% of UK adults in 1973 to 16% of adults according to 2011 figures.
29% of those surveyed told the ONS that they felt lonely some or most of the time, this figure rose to 63% of respondents who were listed as widowed and 45% of those who suffer from poor health or a disability also said that loneliness was a common factor in their lifestyles.
Research from the Campaign to End Loneliness also found that half of all older people in the UK (estimated to be around 5 million people) say that the television is their main form of company.
According to a Royal Voluntary Service survey conducted last year, one in eight older people say they worry about their mental health as a result of living on their own and having no one to talk to.
17% of the RVS survey respondents also said that they had lost touch with friends as a result of their loneliness. 21% also said that they don't leave their house for days at a time.
46% of older people also said that they don't go out as much now, with 26% of respondents saying that their feelings of loneliness has made them less enthusiastic for pursuing their hobbies and interests.
Photo by: bdunnette
In October at the National Children and Adult Services conference, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told delegates that the problem of loneliness in older people in this country is 'a national shame' and a problem that our society has utterly failed to get to grips with.
He cites Asian cultures as having more respect and reverence for the elderly and believes that the seismic shift in our views of the older generation should start at home with how we treat our own parents and grandparents. He has also asked for all 25,000 residential care homes in this country to be inspected from April 2014 and hopes that by March 2016 the official ratings will show that all care homes in the UK pass the 'good enough for my mum' test.
However, elderly person's charity Age UK responded to Jeremy Hunts plans citing cuts to local authority budgets as being the main cause in the deterioration of adult social care services for the elderly in this country. A spokesperson from the charity told Channel 4 news that;
"At Age UK we are extremely concerned that cuts to local authority budgets are exacerbating the problem of loneliness because they are causing the closure of many support services for older people, like lunch clubs, which can be a lifeline for those on their own.
“These cuts are also pushing to breaking point many families who are trying to care for their older relatives in the absence of adequate support. Caring is often a 24/7 role that can have a huge physical and emotional impact on the carer."
How you can help out those in need this Christmas
So it seems that our services and attitudes and towards care for the elderly in this country need to be carefully reconsidered and improved upon, as the number of over 75's in this country will only continue to increase in the coming decades. But from an everyday perspective, there are many things you can do to improve the Christmas season for a lonely person in need this year. You can for instance;
Find the addresses of the elderly folk in your life who you know to be on their own at this time of year and pay them a visit with some festive food and drink.
Alternatively, you could invite them to spend Christmas with you and your family.
Get involved with Age UK's Spread the Warmth Campaign and donate some of your Christmas shopping fund to a good cause, or simply donate your coat to your local Age UK shop to help raise some money.
Organisations such as casserole club encourage people to instead of binning leftovers, donate that extra plate of food to someone in the local are who perhaps can't cook for themselves.
Volunteer some of your time to a telephone befriending service, such as Age UK's Call in Time initiative which will see you arranging weekly calls with a lonely older person in need of a friend to talk to.
Ultimately the only way to help people you know to be lonely at this time of year is to reach out to them and provide them with some of your time and company.