Some elderly people face ‘days without contact’ over Christmas

‘Christmas can be a bittersweet time’: Free listening service reports large rise in callers

‘There can be an assumption that older people don’t have the same feelings or don’t get the joy in being remembered’. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien

‘There can be an assumption that older people don’t have the same feelings or don’t get the joy in being remembered’. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

Elderly people can go up to three days over Christmas without any human contact, according to the Senior Line, a free national listening service.

The service, run by the not-for-profit agency Third Age, has reported a 41 per cent increase in calls during 2017.

Anne Dempsey, communications manager with Third Age, says some elderly people are facing several days of isolation over Christmas and the New Year.

Ms Dempsey recalled a person ringing the service, who “had spoken to nobody on Christmas Eve, nobody on Christmas day and I was the first person they had spoken to on St Stephen’s day”.

She said: “We are open all through Christmas including Christmas day and we will get steady calls through Christmas day. They will be phoning us as part of their Christmas cheer and friendship. For many people they will be calling us because Christmas is very stark and there is nobody in their lives at all.”

Ms Dempsey says she is keen to increase awareness of the service, which is manned by volunteers, who are themselves elderly.

She urged members of the public to reach out to the elderly in the coming days, particularly when weather conditions are poor.

“There can be an assumption that older people don’t have the same feelings or don’t get the joy in being remembered or feeling important to somebody. We all like to be remembered. Dropping to an older person with a gift can make a huge huge difference,” she said.

Practical tips including asking a house-bound relative if they need shopping or fuel, sending an elderly person a Christmas card or offering a lift to mass or a religious service.

Third Age chief executive officer Aine Brady says there are about 160,000 people aged over 65 living alone in Ireland. She says the telephone can be a “lifeline” to many senior citizens.

“It offers contact, conversation and companionship,” she said.

“We will receive over 10,000 calls this year (for all of 2017) representing every county in Ireland. We will be busy on Christmas Day, and our volunteers who work over the holiday season, are glad to be there if needed.

“All volunteers are older people themselves, so they have an immediate rapport with callers, and an understanding that Christmas can be a bittersweet time for many.”

Lines are open every day from 10am to 10pm, 365 days a year, including Christmas Day, St Stephen’s Day and New Year’s Day. The number is: 1800 80 45 91.