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Dublin: 24 °C Friday 25 July, 2014

Column: Look in on older neighbours over the holidays. It’s important.

Older people are a wealth of information, knowledge and experience, writes Seán Moynihan – so why not stop in on a neighbour over the Christmas break?

Seán Moynihan

CHRISTMAS IS THE season of goodwill, of happiness and joy for all. A time for family, friends and those we love. Whilst we all love the idea of the perfect Christmas, most of us I’m sure have all got caught up in the hype of commercialism at some stage in our lives. Isn’t it only natural to want to give those closest to us the best we can, whether that is gifts or the perfect Christmas feast?

If we are lucky, we all have memories of a special or magical Christmas time when were younger. This sense of wonder and excitement is what we all try to create for the next generation. As we get older we remember the feelings and those closest to us rather than specific gifts. Christmas time is a feeling of being cared for, belonging and being safe.

The Christmas period

Imagine spending Christmas Day or any day of the year feeling that nobody cares, imagine not feeling loved or feeling unsafe. At ALONE we work to bring practical supports to older people in need all year round, but especially around the Christmas holidays. We do this by providing housing, befriending and emergency community response services.

Our work with those in the community not only enriches the lives of those we work closely with, it in turn enriches and benefits our volunteers and staff. There is no typical Christmas or typical older person. Each person is unique and some older people, through various circumstances are left alone or isolated at Christmas. The reasons are complex and varied – there may be no family, there may be health issues or someone may have been cut off from our community.

For some older people Christmas time may be a time to reminisce about happier days gone by, shared with loved ones, family and friends. One of ALONE’s residents, Mary, remembers her childhood Christmases in her native county being “loud, busy and full of laughter”. “I had seven siblings so it was an active home,” Mary recalls. “We always seemed to wake up to a dusting of snow every Christmas morning and that’s what the magic of Christmas was all about.”

Isolation

For many isolated older people, their memories of Christmas past are very different to their current situation.

Our ALONE volunteers deliver Christmas dinners to older people. For many volunteers this has become part of their Christmas tradition and one which they feel is ultimately rewarding for everyone. The older people know that these volunteers have given up part of their Christmas Day for them, to bring the spirit of Christmas to the older person’s home. To bring the feeling of being loved and cared for to that older person.

For the older people who use our services, they can be assured that we will be there 52 weeks a year to bring support and to spend time together, to ensure them that they know the community has not forgotten them and does care for them. It is important to remember that not all older people are vulnerable; the majority of older people celebrate Christmas with their families and get visitors over the Christmas break, and for the rest of the year they contribute to their communities up and down the country.

Remember there are over 120,000 older people in Ireland living on their own. Around this time of year there can be a heightened sense of loneliness and vulnerability amongst this group. Loneliness has been proven to be as big a killer in old age as smoking or obesity, the importance of social interaction cannot be underestimated.

You can make a huge difference by simply visiting an older person living alone in your area. We ask you to consider the older people in your community and what you could do to make them more included. We all hope that we will reach old age and when we do, we will want to be valued, we will want to age at home and we will want to be listened to.

Older people are a wealth of information, knowledge and experience. They see the world through experienced eyes and are always great for honest answers and alternative views. If you go with an open mind you will benefit from making a new friend who will enrich your life.

Seán Moynihan is the CEO of ALONE, an organisation that aims to support, befriend and provide homes for older people in need.

If you are concerned about any older person in your area over the Christmas period or want to support ALONE please call 01 679 1032 or go to alone.ie.

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