An elderly man sits in a small, grey house. It is the festive season but you can’t tell from his sombre surrounding. He climbs a hill just to sit on a bench. It is an ordinary scene except that the house, the bench and the old man are on the moon. The new John Lewis advert once again has a tear inducing simplicity.
This advert, produced in partnership with Age UK, is the fairy tale of a real situation for many elderly people. A recent Age UK survey showed that 450,000 people aged 65 and over will spend Christmas alone and 60% are not expecting happiness this year. For many elderly people, the festive season is not a time of family and celebration – and for the lonely, many do not have a little girl with a telescope and a determination to break their isolation.
John Lewis Man on the Moon mugs and Christmas cards are being sold with 25% of profits going to Age UK. The charity’s work is invaluable; with 55,000 elderly people suffering from loneliness in the South East alone, they provide support, advice and care. This year the Norwich branch celebrates its 70th anniversary and is anw active charity in the city. Chief executive, Susan Ringwood, said: “Nowadays 70 is the new 50… We are there to help older people make the most of their opportunities… and, of course, we are there for those not so fortunate”.
Isolation has serious effects on health and wellbeing. Elderly people living on their own over the Christmas period are more likely to end up in A&E with severe problems, according to Professor Keith Willett, director for acute care for NHS England. The old and infirm are often unable to venture to their GP on their own, as it can be more of an ordeal than young people realise.
It is hard to imagine so many elderly people being without family at Christmas. Yet statistics from Age UK show that just 23% of 18- to 34-year-olds will spend Christmas with a grandparent, and less than half of those aged 25 to 54 will spent it with parents. It reveals a trend for families to fragment over Christmas. Catering for large numbers makes the holiday stressful and often older, infirm relatives cannot cope with big groups anyway.
Part of the role of charities like Age UK is to involve younger people in helping the elderly in their communities. Befriending schemes pair up volunteers with a person in need and regular visits are arranged. Sometimes this is all it takes to help combat the isolation and depression older people face. It is very easy to sign up for these schemes and they always need more volunteers, even if only for an hour a week.
Other Age UK projects include Life Stories, a collaboration with the Jane Austen College in Norwich and BBC Voices. Students recorded and scrapbooked some of the memories of older people in their community. Both pupils and participants reported that it was a rewarding experience. Additionally, Age UK is running a Twitter campaign, #Notbymyselfie, which encouraged people to take selfies with their grandparents or parents.
Society’s idea of the elderly has shifted in recent years. When youth and beauty become the chief preoccupations, age is no longer wisdom but a drain on resources. Christmas is a time for us to embrace the charitable season along with the commercial excess. This year, your help could be needed much closer to home. For everyone should agree with Age UK’s slogan: “no one should have no one”.