As the days become shorter and nights draw in, the countdown to Christmas begins.  Retailers are preparing themselves for frantic shoppers, restaurants taking bookings and advertisements hit our screens intended for powerful persuasion. It is impossible to ignore that the festive season will soon be upon us.  Undoubtedly, it is the most hectic time of year with children being the most excited and the rest of us assured once all preparations are in place, we will then look forward to socialising and having a good time. The sad fact is for many, Christmas is no different to any other time of year. This is because they only have themselves for company. Last year, Age UK estimated that 450,000 people will be on their own feeling sad and lonely. With weather conditions  more hostile and reduced hours of daylight, the months of December and January result in the festive period being one of the most vulnerable times of year for the frailest in society. Research for the campaign to end loneliness estimate that half of over 75 year olds now live alone with many saying that television is their main source of company. One in ten people report only having contact with friends, family or neighbours on a very irregular basis. Research has shown that chronic loneliness has a significant impact on health both mentally and physically. The government and NHS has recognised that this is a problem that needs addressing but with the social care system under such strain, it is time that each and every one of us try to make a difference  by encouraging a return to the good old fashioned sense of neighbourliness. Here are some things we could do:

-          Take time to check on our older neighbour/friend. It is not a costly exercise and means so much to someone.

-           Set aside some time to drop in for a cup of tea and chat on a regular basis.

-          Take note are they warm enough and have enough to eat and any safety issues that may need addressing.

-          Offer to pick up some groceries or a prescription.

-          Support your local voluntary services in some way and contribute if you can to initiatives like ‘Be a Santa to a Senior’. Donating a gift to somebody who is unlikely to receive any presents at Christmas is a fantastic way to spread a little happiness.

It is worth remembering the problem of isolation and loneliness is not just confined to the winter months and with a little more thought for others less fortunate than ourselves we can all demonstrate the true meaning of Christmas.