It's the most difficult time of the year for some older people

Silence is golden, goes the phrase, and with an eight year old, I know silence can sometimes be a blessing. Yet, when I go in to work, I see the other side of silence; how it stops being a blessing, and becomes a curse. This silence isn't golden, it's doing a lot of damage.

Keith Robson, Director of Charity Services at Age Scotland
Keith Robson, Director of Charity Services at Age Scotland

It’s the silence that doesn’t come about because you’ve been told to be quiet, but because there’s no one to talk to and all you hear is the tick-tock of the clock. No one to pass the time of day, tut about the latest political scandal or comment on the weather. No one. And as we head towards Christmas, that feeling of having no one can be even more painful with TV showing us images of happy families coming together for the holidays.

With research showing that there are 40,000 people who will be spending Christmas alone, there is so much more to be done. Indeed, with 1 in 10 older Scots, about 100,000 people, feeling lonely some or all of the time, this is a problem that Age Scotland tackles all year round.

As more research is done on loneliness and the effects it has on us, the more you realise why this is one of the biggest health crises of our time. Being lonely is as bad for your health as a 15-a-day smoking habit and twice as bad as being obese. Loneliness increases the risk of death by 10 per cent and can exacerbate heart disease, blood clots and cancer.

For many, these statistics can be shocking, and I make no apology for making people feel uncomfortable because the solution to this problem is painfully easy. Simple human connection is all that’s needed. When some older people are actively encouraging nuisance phone calls in order to hear the sound of a human voice, you can truly begin to understand both the tragedy of the situation and the solution to it.

At Age Scotland, we provide help and support to over 1,000 member groups all across the country. Groups which provide a diverse range of activities all addressing the same problem – making older people feel part of their community. We are also able to tackle this crisis via our helpline, which is free to call on 0800 12 44 222. It offers information, friendship and advice. So whether you’re looking for advice on care, or just a chat, our helpline is there for you.

As our current campaign says, “No one should have no one at Christmas”. We are encouraging people to donate to Age Scotland to support our work throughout the year. By texting ‘LONE16 £5’ to 70070 you can help us to provide information and advice services to one older person. We can connect people with their communities and with your donation we can do so much more.

Age Scotland supports 250,000 older people in Scotland but the Scottish Government, local authorities and the person in the street also all have a role to play. So what can you do? Well, apart from donating to Age Scotland, you can volunteer with us and our helpline, or with groups in your area who will always be happy for your support.

When research shows that two in five older people say that their only company comes from the TV, we must act to stop the tragic health consequences of loneliness and isolation – people living in silence. So we ask – how could you help someone to have someone? How can you make that connection that can make someone’s day? It could be as simple as knocking on an elderly neighbour’s door, picking up the phone to call a relative, or offering an older person a lift to the shops or community centre. These are the simple connections that are so easy to give but for the recipient, can break their silence and change their life.

Keith Robson, Director of Charity Services at Age Scotland