26,000 elderly in Northern Ireland facing Christmas on their own this year
Around 26,000 older people are facing loneliness this Christmas, a leading charity has warned.
New research for Age UK shows that 928,000 older people across the UK feel lonelier at Christmas - which equates to 26,000 in Northern Ireland.
Robert Atkinson (78), who is the face of Age NI's Christmas 'No One Should Have No One' campaign, has told how loneliness can become a crushing pain.
"Many older people don't want to make a fuss and over a period of time their contact with the outside world can dwindle until the only company is the TV," he said.
"This happens too often to too many people and I found myself in that position 14 years after I had a stroke. I was in a very dark place before I became involved with Age NI who helped to turn my life around.
"If you know an older person whom you suspect may be alone this Christmas, reach out and make contact.
"As Age NI's research shows, something as simple as a telephone call or an offer to help with shopping could make all the difference in the world."
The study found that those experiencing loneliness across the province would like others to help around Christmas to get them through what can be an especially difficult time.
It also emerged that two-thirds would like someone to lift the phone and say hello or visit more often, while over one-third would like help with errands, cooking dinner and other chores.
Linda Robinson from Age NI said chronic loneliness can have a devastating impact on an older person's mental and physical health.
"We know loneliness doesn't only happen at Christmas," she said.
"However, as most expect to spend this time enjoying ourselves with family and friends, it can make those who are unwillingly on their own feel more left out and miserable."