Tinsel and carols aside, one of the reasons I know Christmas is approaching is the number of stories I’m reading in newspapers and online about loneliness. From charities rattling their deserving tins for Christmas appeals, like Silverline has done in The Times, to shocking figures from Age UK telling us that nearly half a million elderly people will spend Christmas Day alone; loneliness is everywhere at the moment.
There is, to my mind, no doubt that loneliness among older people is endemic in this country. If proof were needed, Silverline marked its first anniversary a few weeks ago, announcing that it had received 300,000 calls in its first year and that 800 older people were on the waiting list for someone to befriend them and talk to them once a week. The charity estimates that one in ten people suffer intense loneliness. Another recent poll into loneliness, this time conducted by the BBC, reveals that 7% of all adults and 10% of over 65s expect to spend Christmas mostly on their own.
Support is there but people are sometimes reluctant to ask for help
Many organisations do great work to help the lonely, running befriending services, social clubs and interest groups of all descriptions. One group that I think is particularly worthwhile is Men Sheds, where men come together to complete practical tasks, make things and socialise. It’s a brilliant idea because it gives its members a sense of purpose, which, for men especially, can evaporate once retired.
One hurdle these helpful charities and groups frequently encounter is embarrassment; people don’t want to admit that they have become lonely and this sense of shame prevents them from reaching out to groups that could help them. From being busy people doing important work, fully engaged with the world, family and friends, they suddenly find themselves alone, lonely and sinking. But, and this is a very important point, it can happen to anyone.
Even people with family and friends can be lonely
It’s not just housebound pensioners sitting in an armchair by the window, whose families are too busy to see them, or those who have no family at all, who suffer loneliness. Many older people with local, loving families are lonely simply because their children are busy living their lives, working, raising their own children. People don’t want to be a burden, so they say nothing and their loneliness goes unnoticed.
This time next year we will be celebrating Lynwood Village’s first Christmas with our new residents. One of the key factors for people choosing to move to Lynwood Village is the wide range of interest groups, outings and social gatherings on offer. All year round we will be creating opportunities for our residents to meet new friends, develop new interests and regain a sense of purpose. Creating these opportunities in a safe environment, where even the frail can feel confident, is one of the very best things about living in a retirement village. As one of our new residents said, “The UK needs more places like Lynwood”. Looking at the newspapers at the moment, it’s hard to disagree.