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Help combat loneliness at Christmas

Posted on 23/12/2013

Christmas can be a difficult time of year, especially for older people. It can be very lonely for those who live alone at a time that focuses heavily on family. Also, if they rely on support groups and social events throughout the year, these often take a break over the festive period, which can change their usual routine.

With your own family to spend time with and plenty of extended family members to get around, often elderly relatives don’t get to see you as much as they would like. Inevitably, they will spend time alone over the Christmas and New Year fortnight.

If someone is living in residential care, then they can still experience loneliness, despite having other people around them. Being in a large group, but still away from you own family, can feel quite isolating. Plus, if other residents are having visits from their own families and friends, it can painfully highlight and remind of loss.

It doesn’t have to be this way, and if we all commit to helping our older relatives and neighbours through this difficult time of year, we can help make Christmas a little jollier.

1. Don’t be a stranger

You can’t commit all of your time to spending with one person, as you have your own needs to consider. But short, regular visits are better than one long day, as it gives the person something to look forward to and breaks up the long stretch between having company. You could pop in with dinner one night, or offer to take them food shopping to give them an excuse to get out of the house.

2. Research local support projects

If you know that an elderly relative or neighbour is going to be alone at Christmas and you can’t be there for them all the time, then have a look at what services there are around you in the local area. Many day centres will offer Christmas lunch, for example, where people who are alone can go for company and some good food. There might also be friendship projects, where volunteers will spend a few hours with an older person to give them some company.

3. Be a volunteer

If you don’t have anyone who needs your help and company that you know, then you could always volunteer your time to help elderly people who are alone at Christmas. This doesn’t mean that you have to give up a lot of your time, but a few hours here and there to help a local person can make the world of difference. There are sure to be organisations operating in your town, but a couple of places to try in the first instance are Crisis and Age UK.

4. Use technology

If you can’t physically be with older family members at Christmas, make the most of modern technology to help them feel as though they aren’t being left out. You could set them up with a computer and video calling, for example, if they are comfortable with using this, so that they can see you and talk to you from afar. You could also give them a Christmas DVD with a photo slideshow of family from throughout the year that they can watch at any time. A simple phone call goes a long way too.

5. Offer an invite

If you are doing something like attending a carol concert or having a small party over the Christmas period, then invite older family members and neighbours to join in. Being able to get out and about, as well as having something to look forward to can make a wealth of difference.

6. Encourage activities

Rather than just sitting at home alone and watching television, there are plenty of hobbies and activities that older people can do at home when they are on their own and help to pass the time. Before Christmas sets in, make sure that they have plenty of games, books, magazines, DVDs, CDs and so on so that they have things to hand. You could ask them nicely to knit you a winter scarf, for example, so that they feel they are doing you a favour, but it will also keep them occupied.

7. Use phone services

Sometimes, all older people want is someone to talk to. There are phone support lines that have been set up specifically to give that, so if you think an elderly family member or neighbour could do with that sort of thing, then make sure that they have the number to hand. Try The Silver Line, which runs 24 hours a day, every day of the year specifically to offer company to older people.  

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