For the one quarter of older Australians who are living alone, December can be the loneliest month of all.
The festive season. It's characteristically noisy, busy and social as friends and families across the globe prepare to spend time together at Christmas. But if you find yourself facing Christmas alone, the season can be less a time of celebration than of despair.
Christmas ads on TV, decorations in the shops and houses covered in festive lights serve as a reminder of missing loved ones, a quiet house or an empty diary on Christmas Day.
We all feel lonely at times in our lives, but chronic loneliness is too often ignored as just a temporary phase or transient feeling, evoking pity or indifference in others. Even more alarmingly, we are unaware of the serious health risk it carries.
What helps is building meaningful relationships that make us feel valued, engaging with others through a common interest and being involved in the community. Interactions, both major and minor, help us survive hardships, build resilience and significantly improve physical and mental health and wellbeing.
Silver Chain client, Marian, 84, found herself aching for companionship after her husband, Arthur, was transferred from the home they had built together to a nursing facility.
"When I went out I was always with Arthur," Marian said.
Marian’s Silver Chain Care Aide, Danielle, says a lot of members of our community are very lonely, and it’s likely more than we realise.
“Sometimes it’s by choice, but also because they’re unsure of how to access support within the local community, or they just don’t know what steps to take,” Danielle says.
“People need to have a sense of purpose and meaning in their lives. Giving people access to the community, when and where they want, gives them that choice.”
With Danielle's support, Marian regained her confidence and took back her independence with small, simple steps like learning to catch the bus. It doesn't seem like much but reopens the world for a person who has been trapped by loneliness.
"If Danielle hadn't helped me and been with me, I don't know how I would have made it on my own."
How can I help?
Do you know an older person who's spending Christmas alone? Here are some ways you can help:
A simple invitation
Invite them to join you and your family on a Christmas outing, like the local Carols by Candlelight or even a Christmas meal.
Spark up a conversation
Friendly banter in the supermarket line or a warm chat over the fence can go a lone way. What small ways can you bring up conversation?
Help out with a local organisation bringing festive cheer to those in need of companionship of emotional support.
Help them find support
At Silver Chain, we provide social support for older Australians to stay active and connected to their community. Have a look at how we can help, or check your local community newspaper or library for other ideas.
The gift of your time
Drop in for a cup of tea or offer to help write and deliver their Christmas cards, decorate their tree or bake something together.
Community and companionship
When you spend your day enjoying your hobbies, interacting with others and contributing to your community, your happiness, emotional and physical wellbeing are drastically improved.