Senior Solitude Is Not Just Seasonal

In response to the 2015 John Lewis Christmas advertisement, Dion Davis highlights the problem of loneliness for the elderly.

Her skin is frail and her breathing shallow. The room is empty, a contrast to the packed streets adjacent to her house. She recalls a time when her sitting room was abounding and energetic, filled with family and content. The elderly woman sits alone this Christmas, pensive as she stares at the wedding picture; a tear falling on the glass for her late husband.
These are the people we forget in society. We are taught to respect the elderly, but not to remember them. The number of old people alone at Christmas are astonishing, however this is not a seasonal problem.
The festive songs are flooding the shops, children have their lists made and sent; parents are setting alarms —but what about the old people with nobody on December 25th? We tend to forget about the elderly in society, this is no different at Christmas.
The recent John Lewis advertisement aims to raise awareness of loneliness among the elderly at Christmas. The two-minute advert achieves its goal as the world is suddenly speaking about the dark side to this festive entertainment – but it fails to mention any of the charities associated to the problem or how to help. They partnered up with the charity Age UK but did not feature a number nor a website address to help or donate. Neither are found on their own website. Most of us know that the struggles facing the elderly are problematic, but how many of us know how to help them?
The elderly in this country face a multitude of struggles, these are not only around the time of Christmas. The discussion around abuse in nursing homes came and went. The government cutting pensions and allowances will be overlooked on the campaign trail; yet old people are still victimised on all of these fronts. Loneliness is no different; some politicians in the UK are highlighting it as the next public health issue, but it is not at the forefront in Irish politics as of yet.
The Central Statistics Office released figures this year showing that there are 586,600 older people over the age of 65 in the State. This is a large proportion of our growing population that is being neglected. According to the ALONE charity, smoking 15 cigarettes a day is as damaging to a person’s health as loneliness is for older people. This problem is getting worse as young emigrants are moving abroad, leaving families and parents behind.
The chief executive of ALONE, Seán Moynihan said: “Just under a third of older people live on their own and that number will continue to climb. Loneliness has become a chronic situation and is affecting older people’s well-being. There is a difference between befriending and ‘being friendly, ’while it’s wonderful to say hello to your older neighbour when you see them on the street, that small interaction alone won’t stave off loneliness.”
There are a number of charities in Ireland available. ALONE is just one of these, Friends of the Elderly and Age Action are also there to help and are looking for volunteers. Listening and interacting with old people is extremely important, remember the elderly this Christmas, and continue to remember them as the year goes by.
The seasons may change but the elderly woman still sits in her chair idle, without contact from the rest of the world. If the John Lewis advert brought a tear to your eye (as it did mine) then lend a hand, volunteer and listen. Most importantly, do not forget the lonely and vulnerable this Christmas.

Alone can be contacted on (01) 679 1032 or by visiting alone.ie.