A few days ago I heard Esther Rantzen, TV journalist, presenter, and founder of the charity Childline, talking about her latest venture The Silver Line, which is a free 24 hour, confidential helpline for older people (Tel 0800 4 70 80 90).
One of the primary reasons The Silver Line has been established is to tackle the major problem of loneliness that exists in our society, particularly amongst the elderly. Age UK report that half of all people aged 75 and over live alone, and 1 in 10 people aged 65 or over say they always or often feel lonely – that’s over a million people. Shockingly half of all older people consider the television their main form of company. Loneliness can cause serious damage, physically and mentally, and is said to be as dangerous as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day, and more dangerous than obesity.
Loneliness and isolation can profoundly impact an individual’s sense of self-worth. One elderly housebound lady wrote about how she felt she was a burden on her daughter, and how she dreaded “the winter nights when everything seems to close in around me and I feel so isolated. I am an optimist by nature and sometimes I need that to get through another pointless day where I feel as if I am a waste of space.”
The Bible has much to say about caring for the elderly. The fifth Commandment instructs us to honour our father and mother (Exodus 20:12). The Apostle James writes that ‘Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress’ (James 1:27), in other words to care for the weakest and most vulnerable members in our society, and those who need the most support. How the elderly are cared for says a lot about the sort of society we live in.
Loneliness and isolation can affect people at any time, but it can be particularly difficult during the long dark winter nights, and especially in the run up to Christmas.
Do you have an elderly friend or neighbour who would appreciate a visit, the occasional phone call, the offer of help with shopping, or being invited out for a coffee? Do you know anyone on their own who you could invite to join you for Christmas?
In our modern society no one should have to feel lonely or isolated.