At a time when most of us are frantically looking for last-minute presents or trying to find a turkey, it can be easy to forget there are people for whom Christmas can be a very lonely, upsetting time, writes Ruth Taylor, of older people’s charity WRVS.
“A lot of people my age feel even more isolated and lonely at Christmas, and are just glad when it’s over,” says Betty, one of the older people with whom WRVS works. Christmas is supposed to be a chance to spend quality time with your nearest and dearest; but if your family doesn’t live close or you can’t easily get out and about, ‘the most wonderful time of the year’ can feel very isolating.
It’s estimated around half a million people over the age of 65 will spend Christmas alone.
In November 2011 WRVS released research showing that our relationships with family and friends become increasingly important to us as we grow older. When mobility is limited, or friends and family can’t visit regularly, a feeling of extreme loneliness can creep up – which can have a big impact on mental and physical wellbeing.
But Christmas doesn’t need to be like this.
WRVS volunteers work hard in the community to make sure those who might otherwise not see anyone over the festive period see a friendly face and have a hot meal, which goes a long way to making Christmas feel special.
Many meals on wheels services operate on Christmas Day, as do WRVS community centres that open their doors and welcome older people who can enjoy Christmas dinner with their friends.
Volunteering is mutually beneficial – volunteers get as much out of spending time with older people as those who receive help.
Rosie, who volunteers for WRVS meals on wheels, says: “I really enjoy volunteering on Christmas Day, I think it’s great! I have regular people that I see most days so it’s really nice to go and see them on Christmas Day and wish them merry Christmas.
“I’ve worked on Christmas Day ever since I was a care worker. We get to know people quite well so we can tell if something’s wrong, or if they need something we can help or find someone who can, if we can’t. It’s really good to give something back to society.”
Helping to alleviate loneliness at Christmas can be as simple as inviting your neighbour over for a mince pie and a cup of tea.
To find out more about the work of WRVS, become a volunteer, or make a donation, visit www.wrvs.org.uk or call 0845 600 5885.