With the festive season fast approaching, let’s think back over the year to consider which study findings have struck us most. Rarely does research come up with findings that make us stop in our tracks and reflect on the meaning they have for the population they concern, or their implications for ourselves. But there are exceptions.
The latest in a series of studies is informing Help the Aged’s ‘1 is the saddest number’ campaign. The charity’s researchers report that one million older people are facing the prospect of Christmas Day on their own, while 2.6 million grandparents go for more than a month without seeing grandchildren or speaking with them on the phone. If no other findings have grabbed you this year, then let these do so because they affect us all.
We all nurse, have family members or at least know someone in later life and it is these older adults to whom our thoughts should turn this Christmas season. Of course loneliness and isolation are not confined to older people – they are phenomena experienced by those of all ages. In addition, our awareness of these experiences should not be confined to one culture’s celebrations or holiday periods. We need an all-year-round awareness that people are out there who are isolated, lonely and in need of our caring thoughts and actions.
As we travel through adult life ourselves, thoughts of Christmas may focus on credit card statements and the joy that children can gain simply from the wrapping paper. Yet when we were children ourselves, we enjoyed tales such as A Christmas Carol. Such tales conjured up images of cold and hungry people looking in from the street into bright cheery sitting rooms full of lucky people surrounded by their families. And we were thrilled when the poor children finally received the hot turkey dinner they so deserved. The moral in the tales is obvious yet do we act upon it now that we have left our childhood innocence behind?
Now I am not suggesting older people are all sad and to be pitied. Far from it, in my experience. However, I confess I have sometimes walked past collection boxes joking that as nurses we already make a lot of charitable donations when we work late and with no time back or payment likely. What I am suggesting is that we could do
a little bit more to improve older people’s experiences at this and any time of year.
Through Help the Aged’s campaign you can support an older person to go for a seasonal lunch for just £4. This could be the first step in them making new friends or simply having a change of four walls. So go on, do something heart-warming and make a dent on this unacceptable situation – join the campaign at www.saddestnumber.org.uk
Tracey Williamson is research fellow, older people/user involvement, Salford Centre for Nursing, Midwifery and Collaborative Research, University of Salford