CHRISTMAS is regarded as the season of peace and goodwill, but people need to take individual actions for this to be achieved as it won’t just happen on its own. There are many practical ways in which this can be done, but one of the most important of these is to make sure that older people – especially those living alone – are not lonely or doing without at this time of plenty.
The charity ALONE, which supports older people to age at home and which celebrated its 40th anniversary this year, recently launched a commendable campaign called ‘No one should be alone for Christmas.’ Retired broadcaster and journalist Vincent Browne did the honours at the launch, encouraging older people to pick up the phone and get in touch with ALONE and asking families to talk to the older people in their lives about their needs.
The charity is also using the campaign to ask people to consider becoming an ALONE befriending volunteer. Whether people do this type of work through the charity or on their own initiative, it is important that somebody does it, especially as the number of older people is continuing to increase every year as our population is living longer.
According to the last census, 27% of over 65s in private housing live alone and one in 10 older people suffers from chronic loneliness, which can lead to depression, and according to the charity’s CEO Sean Moynihan, ‘is a predictor for dementia, cardiovascular disease and decreased immune system responsivity.’ He reminded us: ‘We will all be old one day and deserve to have supports and services in place to help us age well at home.’
While older people who have access to all the creature comforts they need, the lack of contact with other people can make life miserable for them. In today’s world, offspring tend to have to move away from the area they grew up in in order to get work, leaving parents to fend for themselves when they get older, which is no problem when they are able to do so.
But, when time catches up with people, things change and they become more dependent on other people to help them do jobs or fetch fuel and groceries, and this is where good neighbours come into the picture. Older people probably appreciate discreet help rather than an all-out invasion of their space and those proffering assistance should be mindful of this.
Bestowing a feeling of being part of a community to older people, especially those living alone, adds to their sense of security. This is a worry for many people, especially when we hear about so many cruel and callous crimes being committed against the elderly much of it in isolated rural areas.
Organisations like Community Alert do commendable work in this regard, seeing to it that every older person who wants a personal security alarm gets one and that there are neighbours on hand to come to their assistance if needed – giving peace of mind and showing goodwill in the true spirit of Christmas. The Society of St Vincent de Paul, along with care for aged and geriatric committees in various towns and villages also work hard to assist older people.
It does not stop at Christmas, however, as many vulnerable older people need year-round care and attention to enable them to continue living in their own homes, and organisations and individuals who do this are deserving of our highest praise and support. Simple acts of friendship and inclusiveness mean a lot more to older people living alone and are so easy to do, be it by calling around to see if they are okay for everything before you go to the shops, offering them a lift somewhere, calling in for a chat or inviting them over for a cuppa.
Every little bit helps, but don’t assume other people will do it. Take the initiative yourself and remember that, in life, what goes around comes around.