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Don't Be Lonely This Christmas

Like many people, I try not to even think about Christmas until around mid-December. For that reason, for over a month I almost missed the John Lewis Christmas advert, preferring to revel in the Christmas spirit closer to the day itself. For those of you who have still not seen it, the advert is a high-end, big budget, tear jerker, with a young girl peering through her new telescope at an old man who lives in solitude on the moon. Quite why he was banished there or how he exists in the airless vacuum of space is a mystery – but let’s suspend our critical faculties for a moment.

In the true spirit of Christmas, the young girl reaches out to the old man and sends him the gift of a telescope (by way of a bunch of balloons), allowing him to peer back at her and reconnect with the planet that appears to have shunned him. Complete with a haunting soundtrack, only the stony hearted could remain unmoved!

Whilst primarily designed to have us part with our money at the tills in John Lewis, the producers had a deeper message and, working in conjunction with Age UK, the advert explores the idea of loneliness amongst our older generation and asks what we might do to help?

According to Age UK, 100,000 older people in Scotland say they feel lonely often or always - regularly passing an entire month without speaking to anyone. Sadly, more than half said they consider television their closest company. In winter the situation can be exacerbated, with cold weather making it more difficult to get out and about.

The reasons for loneliness are multifaceted. Some older people may have lost a life-long partner, some may have struggled to adapt to retirement, many outlive their friends and some may have become detached from their immediate family. And whilst many of us feel lonely from time to time, living alone and feeling cut off from society over a long period can cause serious depression leading in turn to physical decline. Unfortunately, despite feeling lonely, many older people are too shy, proud or embarrassed to reach out for companionship. It is therefore important for all of us to recognise and challenge the stigma associated with loneliness.

Often craving a moment of peace to ourselves, it is easy for younger and more active people to overlook the possibility that someone close may be lonely. Indeed, I believe that the John Lewis advert will encourage people to reassess the assumption that they do not know anyone lonely and that there is nothing that they can do to help. Even saying hello to an older neighbour, inviting them for a cup of tea, or offering them a lift into town can make all the difference.

If you don’t know anyone who could benefit from some extra company, you could find it both interesting and rewarding to become an Age Scotland befriender – taking time out now and again to have a chat with an older person who has recognised that they do feel lonely. You can contact Age Scotland to find out more about volunteering.

For those who do feel down and alone, it's tempting to think nobody wants to visit you. But often friends, family and neighbours will appreciate an invitation to spend some time with you.

It is also important to remember that it is never too late to learn basic computer skills! If your friends and family live far away, a good way to stay in touch, especially with grandchildren, is by using a personal computer or tablet (a hand held computer). Only the other day my colleague was shocked and delighted to receive a facebook friend request from his 83-year-old Gran!

As someone who grudgingly embraced the digital age, I appreciate how daunting it may seem to learn such a new skill. However, local libraries provide excellent basic courses which will provide you with all the know-how needed to keep in touch with distant friends and family.

With Christmas now fast approaching, we can all do our bit to help spread some festive cheer to those who need it most. Age Scotland can be contacted on 0800 4708090

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