‘Silent night, lonely night,
All too calm, all too quiet’
Hundreds of older people in Ireland will experience a sad, cheerless version of our well-loved hymn this Christmas.
Senior Help Line has issued a reminder that their phone service will operate right throughout the Christmas period. The confidential listening service for older people provided by trained older volunteers is open every day of the year from 10am to 10pm including all the days of Christmas and the New Year. The LoCall number is 1850 440 444, and no call costs more than 30 cents. Senior Help Line is a programme of Third Age.
People phone because they are lonely, or anxious, or dealing with a particular crisis or problem. Others call for contact and company, and the conversation with the Senior Help Line volunteer may be the only human voice they have heard for days.
Over 140,000 older people in Ireland live alone, according to latest figures from the CSO, and such numbers are growing annually. Living on your own does not necessarily mean feeling lonely, but when you factor in age, ill-health, frailty, fears or bereavement, it is understandable that the days and nights can seem grey, long and empty.
Add Christmas to the equation, and you can begin to get some sense of how stark and non-festive the festive season can be for some lonely people.
Here is what some Senior Help Line callers said to us last Christmas:
‘I am dreading Christmas. I am used to being on my own, but somehow at Christmas, it seems wrong’.
‘My neighbour left me in a small Christmas cake today. It has made all the difference, someone cares’
‘I went to bed last night with my clothes on, this is a very cold house and even over Christmas, I must ration my heat’
‘My wife died in the hospice earlier this year, it will be my first Christmas without her, the children are doing their best, and they miss their mother, but they’re not heartbroken like I am’
‘I had beans on toast for Christmas dinner’
‘I thought my brother and his wife would have me to stay, they have asked me for Christmas dinner, but then I have to go home, I feel very hurt’
Loneliness has been described as a state of mind, characterised by feelings of sadness, longing, even despair. We are social beings. An isolated daily routine can make for an unhealthy lifestyle, and nudge towards depression and mental illness. There is increased awareness of the damage that loneliness can do to body, mind and spirit, and we are now learning that loneliness can be a silent killer.
Aine Brady, CEO of Third Age, encourages people in the community to play their part in reducing isolation at Christmas: ‘The Christmas period can be very difficult for those who are without family, and who are isolated within their community Neighbours, friends and family can make a difference. A phone call or a visit to an older neighbour or family member can make their day. Take the few minutes to brighten someone’s life this Christmas,’ she suggests.
She spoke about the importance of befriending services like Senior Help Line, particularly at this time of year: ‘Christmas is a time for family, of peace, joy and goodwill. But it can be very difficult for older people who may live alone or feel alone. This loneliness can be deepened by the perception that everyone else is feeling connected, happy and fulfilled. Senior Help Line offers an empathetic listening service. When an older person calls us, they talk to someone who understands the challenges that they experience, and the world in which they live,’ she says.
An audit of calls to Senior Help Line in 2016 reveals that three out of every four callers say they find the call ‘useful’ or ‘helpful’. Many people phone daily or regularly and describe the service as their life line. Senior Help Line volunteers are trained to attend carefully to every call, encourage the caller to speak, and explore options that might help. Volunteers will be working over Christmas, waiting for your call, ready to listen, wanting to make a positive difference in your day and every day when you may feel especially alone.
Senior Help Line is a confidential listening service for older people by trained older volunteers for the price of a local call anywhere in Ireland. Senior Help Line is supported by the Health Service Executive and The Atlantic Philanthropies. LoCall 1850 440 444
Third Age is a national voluntary organisation committed to social inclusion, promoting the value of older people in communities, with over 1,400 older volunteers working in programmes benefitting thousands of people of all ages annually throughout Ireland.