Elderly dreading 'lonely' Christmas
Nearly a quarter of elderly people are not looking forward to Christmas because of loneliness and fears that it will bring back bad memories, according to research.
This year 23% of those aged over 65 - the equivalent of 2.5 million people in Britain - suggested that the festive season would not be a happy one, a study has found.
The research revealed that nearly 400,000 pensioners are dreading the prospect of a lonely Christmas, while 650,000 worried the festive season "brings back too many memories of those who have passed away".
The study also found that almost a fifth of older people were worried about not being able to "get out and about as much because of shorter, darker days and poor weather conditions".
The disclosure, in a study by Age UK, suggested that the effects of loneliness increase during the winter months with 2.1 million people worried about not being able to go outdoors as much because of shorter, darker days and poor weather conditions.
Barbara, 85, said she became lonely when she lost her husband of 56 years following a sudden heart attack. On the same day her daughter was diagnosed with terminal cancer and died not long after.
She said: " With Christmas approaching I miss being able to talk things like Christmas dinne r over , all that's gone. The unity of family life is gone, and what are you left with? Bitterness and being alone ."
Barbara said she had spent one Christmas day listening to her phone's voice mail to pass the time. "The message kept saying there are no new calls - I kept listening to that - I missed the sound of a human voice," she said.
She said her situation had improved with the assistance of Age UK's call scheme. She said: " If I hadn't had those ongoing, anonymous calls I don't know where I would be now.
"Sometimes I was crying all the time on the phone but now I really look forward to that call. When you're totally alone it's a very sad, debilitating place to be."
Age UK's findings come after the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, earlier this month urged people to show they care by inviting elderly neighbours who live alone over for Christmas lunch.
The Archbishop said: "Some of the best Christmases we as a family have enjoyed have been when we've invited someone for Christmas lunch who would otherwise have been on their own."
Caroline Abrahams, charity director of Age UK, said the figures were a timely reminder of the scale of the issue.
"People's social networks often shrink due to life-changing events such as retirement and bereavement which can increase the risk of feeling lonely.
"Voluntary sector services like Age UK's have never been more important because funding cuts are forcing many of the local services that help older people stay connected, such as lunch clubs, to scale down or close."
More than 11 million people are aged over 65 in the UK for the first time in history, according to the Office for National Statistics.Age UK surveyed 1,248 people older people as part of its annual winter survey.
In total some 19% - or 2.1 million - were worried about not being able to "get out and about as much because of shorter, darker days and poor weather conditions".
Figures also show that 23% - the equivalent of 2.5 million when extrapolated nationally - said they were "not looking forward to Christmas this year".
Of those, 650,000 said that Christmas brought back too many memories of those who had passed away. The charity calculated that 400,000 people over 65 were worried about being lonely over the festive season.
Older people and their families can call Age UK Advice for free on 08001696565.
To donate call 08001698787 or visit www.ageuk.org.uk/get-involved/loneliness.
Care and support minister Norman Lamb said: "Christmas can be a particularly difficult time for those who will spend it alone, and services like this are a lifeline.
"We know the impact loneliness can have on our health - that's why we've given councils an extra £1.1 billion this year for social care and next year our £5.3 billion Better Care Fund will help people to live in the community for longer.
"Many of us will be looking forward to spending the festive period with family and friends and we must remember to think of those who might be alone. Simple gestures, such as having a cup of tea with an elderly neighbour, can give people the companionship they deserve."