Ways to look after the lonely

Christmas is a great time for families. Seeing friends and relatives, watching the anticipation of the kids and the fun they have with their presents, and enjoying good company and food are central to our enjoyment of the festive season.

Unfortunately, it’s not like that for everyone.

There are those who, at this time of year, face emptiness and despair – and they’re closer to us all than you might think. They are the people around us who don’t have friends or family for company.

According to Age Scotland, some 100,000 older people in this country feel lonely most or all of the time, and 40,000 of them will face Christmas Day alone. Half of those over 75 live on their own – and more than half of those in the same age group say the TV is their main form of company.

One in six older people haven’t spoken to others close to them in a week, and one in nine haven’t done so for a month.

For these people, the festive season can be difficult and depressing. They may be grieving over a lost partner, or estranged from relatives. Their families may have moved away and left them.

Younger people may have become isolated by divorce or separation. Or those on their own may simply have become forgotten by otherwise well-meaning neighbours.

Loneliness isn’t just bad for us mentally – it’s harmful physically, too.

It’s reckoned to be twice as bad as obesity, and as damaging as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Experts say that it can exacerbate heart disease, blood clots and cancer, and increase the risk of death by 10%.

Perhaps it’s unsurprising and understandable that older people don’t want to go out at this time of year – after all, it’s dark, cold, wet and potentially dangerous for them.

But it’s worrying to think just how easily they can become socially isolated – especially when those around them are enjoying themselves.

This isn’t something which politics can solve. It’s for us as individuals, families and communities to take the initiative and try and make the festive season and beyond a little better for those who find themselves in this position.

A good way of starting off would be to make our New Year’s resolutions a little early this year and to ask ourselves if there’s anything we can do over the Christmas period to help someone locally who may be in need of some company.

There are plenty of ways of doing this.

You can drop in on a neighbour who may be alone – the festive season always provides a good excuse for a visit. And you could find a new friend in them every bit as much as they might in you.

If you’ve an older relative who you may have lost touch with, then try and renew the relationship. Or you could join a voluntary group which brings people together for companionship and fun.

It’s all in the spirit of the season.

And whatever you do, have a lovely, peaceful and blessed time yourself.

A very Merry Christmas to you all.