According to Age UK, 1.4 million elderly people in the UK feel lonely on a regular basis. This social isolation is often exacerbated at Christmas, a time when people traditionally come together. Whether you have older relatives or simply want to help a lonely elderly person this festive season, there are lots of small gestures to do that can make a big difference.
Trying to do too much or insisting an elderly loved one spend the entirety of Christmas Day in a busy household can be stressful as people age. Be mindful of their limitations and consider what would be most appropriate for the individual in question.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make when trying to help is assuming you know what’s best. A lonely senior may have one thing in mind that would greatly raise their spirits, so ask them if there’s anything you can do and then listen to the response. Christmas traditions can be held very dear and continuing them into old age can help to offer meaning and a real sense of purpose.
One of the most difficult things in terms of loneliness at Christmas can be that the usual points of contact disappear. When shops, libraries or cafes close for the festive season, an elderly person can lose the one conversation they might have that day. Pick up the phone for a quick chat or knock on the door to say hello and remind them they’re not alone.
Sometimes the feeling of isolation is the result not of a lack of friends but the inability to drive or navigate public transport like they had in the past. Offering an elderly loved one or neighbour a lift to an event like a carol service can give them an opportunity to socialise and be in the community that will lift their spirits for days.
When loneliness sets in, many things like decorating the house for the festive period can feel like too much effort. Purchasing a small tree and sorting through beloved ornaments together can be enough to show them it’s still worth doing. Reassure the senior that you’ll take care of tidying up the tree in the New Year too, so they don’t feel daunted by the task.
Consider helping an older person with their shopping in preparation for the Christmas period. This could be sitting with them and asking what they’d like to eat on Christmas Day then getting the ingredients for them, or assisting in buying gifts for their loved ones. Spending time together planning these things can be joyful and result in the elderly individual feeling like they’re a part of the festivities.
Studies have shown that people like to be asked for help and it can lead to deeper friendships. Many seniors have a wealth of knowledge and sharing it can bring them a sense of value and purpose. In the run-up to Christmas, invite an elderly relative into your home to help you make the Christmas cake or advise you on the best ways to sew a nativity costume. Even if they sit on a chair with a cup of tea or mulled wine and offer tips, they’ll feel involved.
The prospect of spending the entire day with family, especially if there are lots of children running around, can be daunting for many elderly people. Think about your plans for December 25th and devise a plan to allow your loved one to come and join in for part of it if that suits them. Spending two or three hours with you in the morning and then being taken home may suit their schedule better than staying for dinner.
Gathering the children to go carol singing on Christmas Eve or inviting them to choose one gift to show an elderly neighbour or loved one on Boxing Day are great ways to engage the younger generation with seniors. Christmas is always more magical through children’s eyes, so bringing this joy to an older person’s door will enable them to share in it.
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