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Living alone in old age: 'When my wife died, I discovered I didn't have close friends. It's lonely'

Alone, a charity for older people, has launched its Christmas campaign – No one should be alone this Christmas.

ALONE Alone's Christmas campaign launch with Vincent Browne Source: Jason Clarke

“IT’S LONELY AROUND Christmas time. One is made more aware of living on one’s own.”

Donald, an ex-journalist, once lived a very social and active life alongside his wife. However, when she passed away in 2008 Donald found himself living alone in solitude – joining the thousands of other older people across the country who are living alone.

In Ireland, one-third of people over the age of 65 live alone, rising to 60% for those over the age of 80. A striking one in 10 older people suffer from chronic loneliness.

As the years went by without his wife, Donald began to suffer from loneliness and longed for company.

“I was a very social person. When my wife died 10 years ago, I discovered that I didn’t have any close friends because were were a partnership and we were our own closest friends,” Donald told TheJournal.ie. 

“You can’t replace that very easily. I have one son that lives in London and while it’s ok having Skype, it’s not the same as having an intelligent conversation face to face.”

Donald made the decision to seek out support. He contacted Alone, the charity that supports older people to age at home.

Alone works with those who have issues with loneliness, social isolation, lack of services, poor health, poverty and homelessness. It offers a befriending service, where older people living alone are paired up with a volunteer who provides regular home visits.

So far, Donald has had three home visits from an Alone volunteer. He’s always noticing a positive change in his life.

“It has made a great difference. No matter how you get by on a day to day basis, talking to people and dealing with what has to be dealt with, it’s not the same as sitting down for a chat about common interests and the world in general,” Donald said.

Spending Christmas alone

This Christmas will be Donald’s first with the support of Alone. Until now, he said that Christmas has been a particularly lonely period every year. Although he lives in a residential area of bungalows for older people, Donald said his neighbours aren’t particularly interested in socialising, even at Christmas.

It’s slightly lonelier around Christmas time. One is made more aware of living on one’s own.

Annette, a 68-year-old woman also from Ranelagh, has lived alone for years. She never married and has no children.

She, too, turned to Alone for support when she began to feel loneliness seep into her life. Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Annette had nothing but praise for the service and the positivity it has brought into her life.

“My health and everything has improved a thousand out of a thousand since I contacted Alone,” Annette said.

Annette meets up with her volunteer once a week. They go for walks or to a coffee shop for a chat. Annette’s volunteer has brought more than just company into her life, but friendship too.

“She’s a friend, she’s a very good friend. If I wanted to go anywhere locally or further away she would come with me,” Annette said.

“She’s a very nice woman and she’s full of emotion. The first time she came to me… When I opened the door she flung her arms around me and asked me how I was. I was really astonished by it but it was a really lovely gesture.”

Both Donald and Annette had a mutual word of advice to older people living alone, who lack a support system – don’t be afraid and take the first step to ask for help.

Donald told TheJournal.ie that older people have nothing to lose by getting in contact with Alone.

“If they want to have a sensitive person calling for a chat about whatever they want to talk about, I would encourage them to have a go and try it out,” Donald said.

They have nothing to lose. They have everything to gain. Some good friendships can be born by mixing with people from Alone.

Similarly, Annette told TheJournal.ie that there is no need for older people to be nervous about contacting Alone. She said: “The minute you call there’s a nice pleasant voice answering the phone and they’ll be out to you within a few days. I would advise anyone to do that.”

Christmas campaign

Annette and Donald spoke to TheJournal.ie at the launch of Alone’s Christmas campaign – ‘No one should be alone this Christmas’ – which is asking people to support the charity’s work by volunteering and donating.

Christmas is a particularly important time for Alone, as loneliness is heightened for those living alone during the holidays.

The charity runs a number of activities throughout the Christmas period, including a dinner dance for older people and volunteers, the delivery of hundreds of Christmas hampers to older people in need and a Christmas Day dinner delivery for a number of older people.

Sean Moynihan, CEO of Alone said: “We want older people to know that they have a right to be supported, to receive the support they need and to live in a place of their own choosing.

We will all be old one day and deserve to have supports and services in place to help us age well at home.

For those who have concerns about their own wellbeing, or the wellbeing of an older person in their community, Alone can be contacted on 01 679 1032.

Read: Vincent Browne: ’60,000 old people have hardly any visits from friends of family. It’s awful’

More: ‘My greatest fear is she will outlive me’: Elderly carers in Ireland struggle for help

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