Half a million older people will spend Christmas Day alone. We should harness the willingness of volunteers to offer support
Family Christmas dinner
Nearly two-thirds of people surveyed by Friends of the Elderly said they would be willing to open their doors to an older person who would otherwise spend Christmas alone.
I was saddened, but not surprised, by the findings of Friends of the Elderly’s latest research, which found that despite people feeling it is their responsibility to look after their relatives in older age, it is a prospect for many that is hugely feared and even dreaded.
The potential demands it may bring on finances and time, and the complications of living in different locations are all very real and understandable concerns today.
Most of us want to do our best for our ageing relatives, but the reality is that our changing lifestyles can make this almost impossible. Half a century ago, most families stayed in the same area. Children would marry and move away from home but that usually meant a few miles or the next town. People are now far less likely to work for the one company for their whole career. A recent WRVS survey found that 82% of children who have moved away from their older parents have done so for work reasons.
How many times have you heard people long for the good old days when “we used to take care of our own”? Or make comparisons between western society and other cultures in the way they show respect to, and care for, the elders in their families?
There’s no one reason why families can’t take care of their older relatives – and no one should be demonised for not doing so. What we need to do is find a way for society as a whole to support our ageing population. Rather than the French system of being legally responsible for older relatives, I’d like to see a greater move for everyone to feel responsible for the older people in their communities.
If you can’t care for your mum who lives 150 miles away, why not offset this by giving a small amount of time to an older person who’s living alone in your street?
There is an appetite for people to do more – 64% of people in our survey said they’d be willing to open their doors to an older person at Christmas to avoid them being alone. A further 33% would be happy to pop in to see someone who was alone.
When it comes to tackling loneliness and isolation, we need to find ways for older people to support each other and for the more active in our communities to help. I’ve seen two brilliant examples of this: The Amazings is a website run by older people to share their skills with others. Its strapline says it all: “Classes, courses and wisdom from elders with amazing lifetime experiences.”
Casserole, is a community project that encourages neighbours to make up an extra plate for those who may not be able to cook for themselves. Both of these projects utilise everyday skills and experiences to support others. They are simple but incredibly effective.
The growing pressures on social care budgets mean many traditional services in our communities are struggling to stay open. Day centres are finding it harder to cover their costs and to support the increasingly frail. How much longer will it be before older people have nowhere to turn in their local area because of these cuts?
By encouraging everyone to do more in their communities, we can break down the perceived barriers between old and young, help people stay active and remain a part of their community for as long as possible. We can also work to prevent loneliness from becoming so debilitating that it has a longer term, and more costly impact on health.
If there was one legacy this Olympic and Jubilee year could leave us with it is harnessing the willingness of volunteers. If every volunteer who took part in the Olympics could be supported to find ways to help the lonely older people in their communities, I’m sure we would no longer have to hear the shocking statistic that half a million older people will be spending Christmas Day alone.
WILL YOU HELP SOMEONE THIS CHRISTMAS?