Eileen Gray, General Manager at Cramond Residence, discusses the loneliness epidemic and why it’s important to look out for the older people in your community.
Christmas is a season for celebration and spending time with family and friends. All the socialising we do over the festive season can be exhausting, and many welcome more alone time once January arrives. However, the weeks following Christmas can be the loneliest time of year for many who spend a lot of time on their own; when all of the parties and dinners, and visits from friends and family end.
While we hear a great deal about loneliness over the Christmas period, such as recent research from the charity Age Scotland which found that around 184,000 older people in the country feel lonelier over the Christmas period than any other time of year. But we hear far less about the people who did enjoy Christmas with loved ones, but then retreat back into a life of loneliness once the festivities end.
Loneliness is an epidemic in Scotland and has very grave consequences: it can increase the risk of death by 10 per cent, and doubles the chances of developing dementia. While this sounds very grim, it’s important to be aware of how this might affect people in your community, and should act as a reminder to look out for those who may be lonely.
What can you do to help someone suffering with loneliness?
You may notice that some of your elderly neighbours are always ready for a chat, and maybe they mention that they haven’t had a chance to see any of their friends recently. They may be very keen to invite you in for a cup of tea, or tell you that they’re missing their spouse who passed away. These are all signs of loneliness and while you may not feel you have enough time to give to them, a little bit can go a long way.
Even if you only go in for that cup of tea once out of 10 invitations, that’s still 20 minutes of valuable conversation they wouldn’t otherwise have. Hearing about your day and what is happening in your life gives them a connection to the world, and makes them feel close to you when they may not have that link with anyone else.
There are also some wonderful community groups which you could volunteer with, or help an elderly person in your life access. Here in Cramond we have the Almond Mains Initiative, which provides a support service for older people who don’t have access to social opportunities. The group works from the Cramond Kirk Hall on Tuesdays and Wednesday, and the Kirk is also a great place for older people to find support. With Bridge Club, chair-based exercise classes, and the Cramond Community Choir, there are a variety of welcoming activities on offer.
Most importantly, please just take the time, whenever you can, to ask any older people in your life how they’re feeling. Listen to them for 10 minutes; tell them something funny that happened to you this week; give them a hug. These tiny gestures could curb loneliness in someone who has been having a hard time, and it just might save their life.