Loneliness can be as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day [1]. Worst of all, when older people experience loneliness, they are more likely to suffer from things like depression and cognitive decline [2].

Older people become socially isolated for a number of reasons, including poor health, leaving the workplace and losing a spouse. But this year, millions of older people face spending the festive season alone because of the pandemic.

It’s more important than ever that older people get the support they need. So to gain a clearer picture of how the pandemic is affecting the elderly, and what needs to be done to combat loneliness, we surveyed over 500 people aged 65 and over. Here is what we found.

More than half of over-65s are worried about spending Christmas without their family

One of the biggest worries for those we surveyed was the prospect of spending Christmas without their family. Over half said they were worried about spending the festive season without their loved ones, and many indicated that the thought of being alone made them feel hopeless about the future.

“I seem to have nothing to look forward to now and the prospect of Christmas looks grim.”

One of the more startling insights was the fact that some participants suggested they would break lockdown restrictions rather than go through Christmas alone, supporting comments made earlier in the year by Baroness Greengross, who said older people were likely to prioritise seeing their family over staying alive.

“I will see them at Xmas whatever the rules!”

Nearly 1 in 6 over-65s worry more about loneliness than Coronavirus

Over 50% of the over-65 have one or more chronic health conditions [3]. These make older people particularly vulnerable to the virus and mean many have had to isolate indoors for prolonged periods of time. This appears to have exacerbated lots of older people’s sense of isolation, with almost one in six worrying more about loneliness than Covid-19. One respondent said, “I get depressed being in the house all the time, but I am too frightened to take the risk of going out even for a walk.”

“It makes me feel depressed as I am unable to see my family, don’t go out, don’t sleep well, have been inside since mid-march and feel generally fed up.”

28% of those we surveyed said Coronavirus had affected their mental health, and of those more than a quarter indicated that loneliness or not being able to see their family was a contributing factor

The Coronavirus has had a big impact on mental health. 28% of the elderly people we surveyed felt their mental health had been affected by the pandemic, and of those more than a quarter blamed loneliness or not being able to see their family. Over a third (39%) of the elderly people we spoke to also said they had had trouble sleeping.

“I’ve had sleepless nights since the Covid-19 pandemic & lockdown… I’m constantly worried with the whole situation.”

Lockdown loneliness infographic

Loneliness among the over-65 is a big problem and can’t be solved by a few well-meaning organisations – it’s going to take the kind of togetherness we saw during the pandemic to make a difference.

We’ve made a special Christmas pledge to our service users to combat loneliness. If you want to let others know about how lockdown is affecting the elderly, you can share this infographic on your website or social media. It’s totally free and will help spread the word.

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SECOM CareTech Christmas Pledge

The pandemic has affected millions, if not billions of lives. Families have had to isolate for months on end and many of us have experienced the worry that comes with not being able to check on loved ones.

SECOM CareTech is a telecare provider. We offer a number of monitoring services, including personal alarms, fall detectors and GPS pendants.

We know how important it is for people to stay connected at this difficult time, so this year – to make sure we play our part in combating loneliness – we will be calling each of our CareTech customers on Christmas Day.

We will call to wish them a merry Christmas and spend a few moments with them via their base hub or Care Go device to make sure they’re alright. We’ve also trained our monitoring team on how to signpost service users in case they’re experiencing a mental health crisis.

If you’re elderly and affected by loneliness, or know someone who is, there are steps that you can take to make things better. Independent Age, one of our charity partners, works to make the UK a place where we can all live happy, connected and purposeful later lives. They provide advice and support on a range of different issues, from money and benefits to social care and loneliness. Their If you’re feeling lonely guide suggests ways to reduce loneliness, as well as information about where to look for more help.