A quarter of all over-65s – nearly three million people [i] – are not looking forward to Christmas this year, with around 550,000 [ii] of those saying it’s because the festive season brings back too many memories of loved ones who have passed away, according to new polling for Age UK. [iii]
The research, part of the Charity’s No one should have no one at Christmas campaign, [iv] paints a gloomy picture of the upcoming festive season, with more than 340,000 older people across the country already worried about feeling lonely this Christmas. [v] Just over 300,000 over-65s are not looking forward to the festive season because they will be on their own, [vi] and almost 200,000 are not expecting to see their family as much as they’d like to during this period. [vii] Two-thirds (67%) of those surveyed for the Charity feel that loneliness is exacerbated by the festive season.
Age UK’s campaign, which kicked off last month, aims to raise awareness of the loneliness epidemic among older people at Christmas. Although loneliness is a problem at any time of year, with more than a million older people going without speaking to a friend, neighbour or family member for over a month [viii], Age UK is calling on people to remember those facing Christmas alone and help make a difference to older people’s lives by donating £3 today and texting  ‘CHRISTMAS’ to 70111 to help answer a call to the Age UK Advice Line. The Charity is also calling on everyone to sign its petition calling on the Government to recognise loneliness as a serious health problem and commit to action to help tackle it.
Gogglebox stars June and Leon Bernicoff will tonight star in a special advert filmed to support Age UK’s campaign [ix]. In the 60 years they have been together, the couple have almost never spent time apart.
June, 78, said: ‘Leon and I have been together for over 60 years and I couldn’t imagine my life without him. We’re very fortunate to have each other to rely on, but sadly there are so many people who simply don’t have anyone to turn to. That’s why the work Age UK does to tackle loneliness is so important and I’m thrilled Leon and I could back the campaign in this way.’
Leon, 81, said: ‘I’ve always said I’ll be fine as long as June is by my side; she’s my rock through life’s ups and downs. Everyone deserves regular companionship and support in life and it’s heartbreaking that so many older people feel there’s simply no one they can turn to. Age UK wants to change that and I’m proud to be supporting their No one should have no one at Christmas campaign.’
There are clear reasons behind the high numbers of lonely older people, according to Age UK. Families are more geographically scattered than ever before due to factors such as increasing divorce rates and the changing job market; working families live busy, hectic lives; and as more of us use electronic communications, older people risk being isolated from conversation channels. Yet loneliness is a serious health hazard which can be as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day [x] and increases the risk of health conditions including dementia, high blood pressure and depression. [xi]
The Charity is calling for urgent action to tackle the problem of loneliness, which it argues is a major public health challenge. Almost 90% of those surveyed for the Charity feel there should be more help available for lonely older people, with well over a quarter believing that ‘a simple visit once a week’ would help most people who feel lonely. [xii] Across the country organisations, including many local Age UKs, run initiatives to help those who feel lonely and isolated, but more funding for these kinds of services is urgently needed together with a more comprehensive network of community services to prevent and alleviate the problem.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: ‘For many people, the festive season is filled with joy and happiness, a magical time to spend with their loved ones. Yet for many older people, Christmas is a thoroughly miserable time which reinforces their feelings of loss and loneliness.
‘We understand that in today’s society families are widely dispersed so visiting older relatives can be challenging. But our research shows that making the effort to keep in touch can make a big difference to older people who tend to be stoical and reluctant to admit how lonely they are.
‘It is time that everyone realised that loneliness is not an inevitable part of ageing. However it is a serious condition which can be hugely damaging, mentally, physically and emotionally. We all have a responsibility to take action and help the older people in our lives, and we urge everyone to touch base with their older friends, relatives and neighbours in the run up to Christmas this year. By donating and signing our petition you can help older people to enjoy the festive season and the year to come; everyone should have someone at Christmas.’
To help Age UK support lonely older people and find out how you can help by donating, volunteering and signing its petition calling on Government to take action go to: www.ageuk.org.uk/christmas.