With the festive season now upon us, it is easy to imagine everyone is looking forward to a family Christmas. However, society has changed over recent years and many of us no longer live near our relatives. Communities often comprise people who see little of each other as they go about their daily lives.

Age Scotland reports that 100,000 older people say they often or always feel lonely, sometimes passing a whole month without speaking to anybody. Their TV provides their only company over Christmas and New Year. Nearly one in five keep the TV on all day “just to hear human voices.” Others go for days without a visit or phone call from family or friends.

Age Scotland’s helpline reports hearing from older people who feel trapped in their homes and simply want to talk to someone. They have regular callers asking what day or time it is as their days are so repetitive, or say they sleep constantly as there’s nothing else to do.

It’s especially bad when wintry weather and icy pavements can make people afraid to leave their homes. Many feel depressed and anxious, but are embarrassed to let people know that they need some extra help.

Age Scotland’s Christmas campaign “No one should have no one,” aims to highlight the extent of loneliness and isolation in Scotland, encouraging people to act in their communities. Retirement, the death of a partner or poor health can all lead to feel socially isolated. Mobility issues, a lack of confidence, and access to transport are some of the factors preventing people from taking part in their communities.

However, loneliness is not unique to older folk and in fact those aged 18-34 are most prone to feeling lonely.

Loneliness impacts on health, damaging mental and physical wellbeing. Lonely people have a 64% increased chance of developing dementia. Lacking social interaction is as great a risk factor for early death as smoking 15 cigarettes per day. Indeed, loneliness is not just linked to depression but also an increased risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes and strokes.

It can be hard for those affected to reach out and let others know they are struggling. Christmas presents an opportunity to extend a hand to our neighbours and make a special effort to connect with people who might otherwise be isolated.

Age Scotland welcomed the SNP Government’s commitment to a national strategy to tackle loneliness. This examines the scale of the issue and urgent need for organisations, health and social care services to work together to recognise and address social isolation.

This year, why not consider taking the time to stop and chat. Invite someone in for a cup of tea or simply drop off a Christmas card. By making a small effort, this Christmas you can make an enormous difference.

Age Scotland can be contacted at: 0800 12 44 222.

A Stevenston based befriending service, the HOPE project, part of the Community Led Action and Support Project (CLASP), is at: 01294 463 444.

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