CHRISTMAS is a wonderful time of year – tinsel, lights and trees are up and cheerful messages are everywhere – it is a time when most eagerly look forward to summer holidays and spending time with family and friends, but for some, Christmas can be a very lonely time.
Hasluck MHR Ken Wyatt said a new Australian Red Cross survey found up to one in four or 5.6 million Australians felt lonely some or almost all of the time.
“Young men are most at risk, as are people over the age of 55, especially following divorces or separations,’’ he said.
The Aged Care Minister said many people he met were yearning for more human contact.
“A shake of the hand, a smile, someone to listen to them and share a yarn or a joke,’’ he said.
“I recently knocked on the door of an older man whose wife had died and his children had grown up and moved away.
“He broke down in tears, as he told me I was the first person he’d spoken to in more than a week.
“Another constituent, a young mother, burst into tears when she opened her door.
“It wasn’t because she didn’t like politicians, it was because after a relationship breakdown, she’d been so busy looking after her children, that she hadn’t spoken to another adult for days.’’
Mr Wyatt said he had been told that up 40 per cent of people in residential aged care never received visitors.
But he was heartbroken when he recently visited a home where none of the residents received visitors, year-round.
“Let’s just stop and think about that – no visitors at all.
“So more than ever this Christmas, I am asking all Australians to reach out to people in residential aged care and relatives, friends, and community members everywhere in need of company.’’
He said the federal government had invested more than $17 million in the community visitors scheme, so the organisation could support a national network of volunteers to provide company and care to people in need – to listen to them, laugh with them and share their stories.
Last year, the government funded more than 220,000 visits to people receiving residential aged care services and home care packages.
He said that was great but was not the same as a visit from a loved one.
“Australia has traditionally been a caring society, but as the pace of life has increased, we’ve left too many people behind.
“Our need for love, company, our family and friends does not diminish as we age.
“Caring for our fellow Australians is everyone’s business – certainly not just the business of governments and the aged care sector.
“Campaigns such as the Australian Red Cross’s Season of Belonging are vitally important and will help ensure that people are not forgotten this Christmas.’’
The campaign offers useful and practical ways people can help prevent loneliness.
“I am also asking people to reach out — particularly to senior Australians — show you care and take time to share this festive season with relatives, neighbours and community members in need of company.
“We all have a responsibility to care for our senior people – to show them that we cherish them and value them by being there as much as we can.
“We live in a country built on their hard work – surely we owe them that.’’
Southern Cross Care strategy general manager Jane O’Halloran said the not-for-profit aged care provider supported Red Cross’s Season of Belonging and valued the contribution of all its volunteers.
“Without the generous support of our wonderful volunteers it wouldn’t be possible for us to offer some of the services that residents enjoy and look forward to throughout the year,’’ she said.
“Our volunteers at Jeremiah Donovan House and our other sites know firsthand how loneliness is common among older people.
Their friendship, companionship and support is truly valued by our residents.”
Those interested in volunteering opportunities with seniors at Southern Cross Care can call 1300 669 189.
Visit redcross.org.au/act to find out how to reach out to people in the community who may be lonely.