St Leonards case highlights problem of loneliness among elderly at Christmas

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A pensioner from St Leonards has spoken on how loneliness at Christmas affects her.

Janet Porte, 73, lives alone and has no family. She often feels lonely and used to dread the Christmas period when everyone would be with friends and family which would make her feel lonelier than ever.

Janet spent Christmas Day by herself for several years before she went along to the Christmas dinner at the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS) Centre in St Leonards for the first time last Christmas.

She said: “I used to feel like taking a tablet to sleep for three days until it was all over because I felt so lonely over Christmas but being with other people last year made me forget that I would otherwise be by myself, sitting at home feeling worse and worse each hour.

“I can’t say I’m looking forward to Christmas this year but knowing I’m going along to the RVS Centre to be with other people means I’m certainly not dreading it in the way I used to.”

Janet’s situation comes as England’s top doctor, Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, has called on people to look out for frail and elderly relatives, friends and neighbours over Christmas and New Year.

The NHS England medical director has spoken of the need to tackle social isolation among the elderly to end loneliness and help prevent a crisis in the nation’s hospitals this winter.

The plea from NHS England’s most senior doctor comes as research shows three million over-65s are not looking forward to the festive season, and half a million elderly people feel lonelier on Christmas Day than at any other time of the year.

Sir Bruce Keogh said: “Last year, the health service responded to far-and-away the highest ever number of A&E attendances, NHS 111 calls, ambulance calls, and emergency admissions in NHS history, with a 65 per cent increase in trips to hospital for those over 75 years.

“Unfortunately, the elderly compose the largest group admitted to hospital in the winter. For the NHS, the pinch point in winter is the increase in numbers of emergency hospital stays – last winter they reached record levels.

“Those with existing chronic respiratory conditions, such as asthma or COPD are particularly vulnerable, and for those who are frail or elderly, even the common cold, can trigger a hospital stay. Last year, more than 366,000 over 65-year-olds were admitted to hospital with flu or pneumonia alone.

“Our elders are proud people, and every year thousands do not take action and are slow to seek help if they feel unwell. They end up getting more unwell than they otherwise would.

“Just like Monday is the busiest week day for emergency hospital stays, the days following Christmas and New Year are some of the busiest of the year. Last Christmas, NHS 111 received 123,000 calls on December 27.

“My message is simple - look after yourself and others this Christmas, don’t store up health problems for January. Make sure you and your loved ones have stocked up with the medicines they need for the full Christmas and New Year period.”

Age UK, which is supporting the NHS Stay Well This Winter campaign, is also running the No-one should have no-one at Christmas campaign, which highlights that more than a million older people say they haven’t spoken to a friend, neighbour or family member for more than a month.

According to Age UK, as many as 60 per cent, or six million of the UK’s over-65s say the holiday period is an unhappy time of the year.

David McCullough, Royal Voluntary Service chief executive, said: “The run up to Christmas can be an incredibly difficult time of year for those who don’t have friends and family nearby and are facing spending Christmas Day alone.

“There are many older people who are lonely and who, without our volunteers, wouldn’t see another person or even have a conversation from one week to the next.

“With an ageing population and so many older people set to spend Christmas alone this year, we support the call from Sir Bruce Keogh and want to encourage anyone with an older neighbour, friend or family member to check they are ok, see how they are and have a chat as that small act alone can make a huge difference.”

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