Imagine what it would be like to spend Christmas on your own. It may surprise you that although we live in a close-knit community, many older people on this island spend the festive period alone. In this feature we look at how charities such as Isle of Man Live at Home scheme are helping to make a difference
Your friendship is priceless.
This heartfelt Christmas card message was written by one of the 650 older people in the island who are helped all year round by the Isle of Man Live At Home scheme.
Four simple words which convey appreciation for the friendship and practical help provided by the charity’s staff and volunteers.
Out of all the older people who are members of the six Live At Home schemes here, around 80 per cent live alone.
Loneliness and isolation among the over-60s is an issue of growing concern, and its negative impact can be magnified at this time of year when so many of us are looking forward to spending time with family and friends.
Jan Farrell is manager of the Douglas Live At Home scheme.
‘Loneliness among older people is something which is increasing in every country with an ageing population. The Isle of Man is no different, but living on an island brings additional challenges.
‘If someone has a disability, and no family on the island, they may find it difficult to travel by air or sea to spend Christmas with sons, daughters and grandchildren who live off-island. But older people who have family here may also find that they spend a lot of time on their own because their sons and daughters may be busy working and looking after their own children.
‘Unfortunately, that’s just part of modern life, and older people understand that it’s just not possible for their family to spend as much time with them as they would like – but it means that they can spend a lot of time alone, and that’s where we try to help.’
Live At Home schemes organise regular social groups, lunch clubs, and film clubs, provide help with transport and offer advice on accessing other support services.
There are also befriending schemes in which volunteers make regular visits to an older person just to have a chat or a cup of tea.
‘Our volunteers may start out as a befriender to an older person, but long-lasting friendships often develop over time,’ says Jan. ‘For our members who don’t have many visitors, knowing that a befriender will visit is something which they really look forward to.
‘Sometimes even couples may experience loneliness too, and may need some company from a befriender.
‘Quite often, caring for a loved one with complex needs brings its own difficulties and can severely restrict a couple’s ability to go out. So recieving a visit, or being able to attend a social event with the peace of mind that their loved one is in good company, can make a huge difference.’
At this time of year the charity organises more events and makes sure that all of the older people who are scheme members have at least one ‘Christmas experience’, be that a Christmas lunch, attending a party or carol service, or going on a shopping trip to buy decorations or presents.
Those who can’t get out to go to events are presented with a Christmas hamper delivered to their home.
This year 19 first year student nurses based at Keyll Darree also supported the charity by organising a shoebox appeal and collecting gifts which were presented at a special Live At Home Christmas craft and afternoon tea event held at the charity’s HQ at Willaston Church on December 16.
Another Christmas scheme supporting the charity is being backed by Shoprite and Victoria House Nursery.
Nursery children have decorated shopping trolleys which are placed near to the checkout at Shoprite’s stores in Douglas (Victoria Road), Onchan, Peel, Ramsey and at the Iceland store in Douglas.
Shoppers are asked to buy an extra Christmas gift or food item suitable for an older person – and all of these gifts and treats are distributed by Live At Home schemes across the island.
‘At Christmas time we are surrounded by scenes of families and friendship in the media and around town, and this can intensify the emotions an older person may feel if they know that they won’t be with their own family or friends over the festive period.
‘And, even for those who do spend Christmas with their loved ones, loneliness can still be an issue in the New Year when friends and family have gone home – so this is something that we need to address all year round.’
There are six Live At Home Schemes in the island – western, northern, Onchan, Douglas, Laxey, Lonan, and Northern Men In Sheds – which are all run by the local branch of the UK-based MHA charity.
Jo Dixon, Island Live at Home manager, says that the need for the type of services the charity provides is going to increase significantly in the years ahead.
‘Isle of Man population projections indicate that the greatest increase over the next 20 years will be in the over-65 age group, which is expected to increase by 75 per cent over this period.
‘The cost of health care for people over the age of 80 will almost double. Over the same period the number of working age people is projected to increase by only 2% and the number of children by 7 per cent, representing a major shift in the population profile. There is now increasing research which shows that the type of services we provide results in social and emotional benefits, and benefits to the physical health of older people – and the demographic trend indicates that the demand for our services is only going to increase.
‘We rely on our Live At Home team, including our wonderful volunteers, and the great Manx public who are so generous in giving donations and supporting our fundraising events. We will need their support more than ever in the years ahead.’
If you want to volunteer to help one of the Isle of Man Live At Home schemes – or are over 60 and want to take part in its activities or know someone who does – phone 616571, email Isleofman.email@example.com or find the charity on Facebook. You can also visit the Live At Home Scheme website www.mha.org.uk