The Christmas season, a time synonymous with family, joy, and togetherness, ironically becomes a period of profound loneliness and isolation for many elderly people. Age UK reports that over 2.3 million older people in the UK long for companionship during Christmas, with 1.6 million finding Christmas Day the hardest. These figures are a stark reminder of the contrasting experiences faced during a season widely celebrated for its spirit of togetherness.
In light of this, Oak Tree Mobility confronts a significant but often overlooked issue affecting the elderly in the UK: increased loneliness during the Christmas season.
The extent of the problem
Data from a recent ONS survey highlights how widespread loneliness can be, a condition that can be particularly prevalent during the holiday season.
The data reveals that over 51% of the population experiences loneliness, with 7% reporting feeling lonely “often or always”. This statistic is particularly relevant for the elderly, who may face increased isolation due to factors like the loss of a spouse, distant family relationships, or mobility issues. During Christmas, when the societal focus on togetherness intensifies, this loneliness can become more acute and noticeable.
Survey findings also indicate that loneliness fluctuates seasonally. In November and December, overall life satisfaction decreases by 0.3 points, and loneliness increases by 2% compared to the rest of the year. These trends highlight how Christmas, a time focused on social gatherings, may deepen feelings of isolation, especially for those without family connections or social networks, a common situation among the elderly.
How are the elderly affected?
A significant number of older individuals, particularly women over the age of 65, report heightened feelings of loneliness during the Christmas period. About 29% of older women experience this isolation more acutely during festive times. This demographic is especially vulnerable due to factors like living alone, which is the case for approximately 25% of the elderly in the UK during the festive season.
Addressing the issue
Addressing the issue of the elderly spending Christmas alone is crucial for fostering a sense of community and ensuring that they feel valued and connected during the holiday season.
Here are five solutions to address this issue:
- Community volunteer programmes. Establishing community volunteer programmes where individuals can sign up to spend time with the elderly during Christmas. These programmes can include activities like sharing a meal, participating in holiday traditions, or simply engaging in conversation. Local community centres, churches, or social service organisations can coordinate these efforts.
- Virtual connection initiatives. In the age of technology, virtual connections can be invaluable. Setting up video calls for the elderly with their family members, friends, or volunteers can help reduce feelings of isolation. This can be facilitated through local community groups or social service agencies, ensuring that the elderly have the necessary technology and assistance to connect virtually.
- Holiday companion services. Developing a service where volunteers specifically offer companionship during the holidays. This can include visiting the elderly in their homes, inviting them to community events, or organising special holiday gatherings for those who might otherwise be alone.
- Intergenerational engagement programmes. Creating programmes that encourage intergenerational engagement, such as pairing young people with older adults to spend time together during the holiday season,. These programmes can include activities like decorating, gift exchanges, or storytelling, fostering a sense of family and community across generations.
- Public awareness campaigns. Launch awareness campaigns to highlight the issue of elderly isolation during Christmas. This can involve media campaigns, social media outreach, and community events to encourage people to reach out to elderly neighbours, relatives, and community members. The aim is to create a culture of inclusivity and caring, ensuring that the elderly are not forgotten during the festive season.
Verity Kick, marketing director at Oak Tree Mobility, said: “Christmas should be a time of joy and togetherness, but for too many of our seniors, it’s a season of loneliness. Our research echoes what has been seen nationally: over 2 million elderly people in the UK are in dire need of companionship during the holidays. It’s a stark reminder that we must do more as a society. By mobilising community initiatives, encouraging volunteerism, and advocating for supportive policies, we can change the narrative of these golden years from solitude to solidarity.”