Coronavirus could lead to loneliness epidemic for elderly

Thousands of older people here face a loneliness epidemic this Christmas, a charity has warned.

Almost one in four of those surveyed are most worried about lacking company this festive season.

Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill took part in talks over the weekend where the UK's leaders backed plans to allow some household mixing for a small number of days over Christmas.

Age NI chief executive Linda Robinson said: "It has been an incredibly challenging time for our older population and as we face Christmas, very sadly, there is a danger that it may get even worse.

"We are heading into what could potentially be the loneliest time ever experienced by many older people."

78% of those surveyed as part of the Age UK research stated they are worried the Covid-19 restrictions might mean they cannot see family or friends.

Recently bereaved Derek, 87, from Belfast said eating out and social activities had ground to a halt during the pandemic.

"You wake up in the morning and you have to say to yourself, get up, you have to force yourself.

"You've got to keep slugging away."

Since the start of the first lockdown, Age NI has reshaped its services to place a much greater emphasis on keeping older people connected when they can't meet face to face.

It launched Check In And Chat, a weekly friendship call from our 218 trained volunteers; and from March to September, handled over 30,000 calls to provide advice and direct support to older people across all its services.

Derek has been fit and active all of his life, with a passion for hillwalking, travel and skiing, all in the company of his wife.

In 2019, he lost his wife after 61 years of marriage.

He had just sold the family home and moved to an apartment when the first lockdown happened in March.

He said: "I was starting a new life in an apartment of my own, without all the memories of my wife.

"I had taken up tai chi, which is a beautiful activity for gentle movement and a slower pace like my own.

"The class was full of older people like me - it was great fun.

"When the lockdown hit, it was just cancelled.

"It was the same for a club I joined which met once a week, it just stopped.

"This is where the lockdown hit and it's not just me, it's everybody."

He had picked an apartment which was close to cafes.

"I would have eaten out in a cafe or restaurant a couple of times a week, nothing lavish, but a decent meal I didn't have to prepare.

"Again, that was shut down."