It’s one of the most iconic and moving images to come to our television screens this Christmas - the lonely old man stranded on the moon, and the joy that human contact, no matter how far away, brings him.
But the reality is that thousands of older people around Nottinghamshire will be facing a lonely and isolated festive season, with a recent survey showing that around one-in four people aged 65 and over in the county are not looking forward to Christmas.
The research, commissioned by Age UK, paints a gloomy picture of the upcoming festivities, and had prompted John Lewis - the retailer behind the advert - to join forces with the charity to call on residents to help make a difference.
The charity is calling for urgent action to tackle the problem of loneliness, which it argues is a major public health challenge.
Almost 90 per cent of those surveyed for the charity said they feel there should be more help available for lonely older people, with well over a quarter believing that ‘a simple visit once a week’ would help most people who feel lonely.
Many initiatives are run around Nottinghamshire to help those who feel lonely and isolated, but more funding for these kinds of services is urgently needed together with a more comprehensive network of community services to prevent and alleviate the problem, the charity said.
Age UK spokesman Esther Jackson said: “The Man on the Moon advert has really struck a chord with people, helping to raise awareness of loneliness amongst older people and we are thrilled to be able to announce this next exciting phase of our partnership with John Lewis.
“Loneliness can be devastating and we hope this appeal will both cement this huge issue even further into public consciousness and drive vital donations to help us provide companionship, advice and support through a range of services.
“We also hope it will continue to get people talking about this important issue and inspire action - we all have a role to play as individuals, families and communities in helping ensure older people feel valued and included so that no one feels lonely at Christmas time, or any other time of the year.”
The charity claims that the changing nature of our society is a prime cause for loneliness amongst the elderly, with families more geographically scattered than ever before due to increasing divorce rates and the changing job market.
Additionally, working families live busy, hectic lives; and as more people use electronic communications, older people risk being isolated from conversation channels.
Yet, the charity argues, loneliness is a serious health hazard which can be as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and increases the risk of health conditions including dementia, high blood pressure and depression.
Age UK Director Caroline Abrahams added:”For many people, the festive season is filled with joy and happiness, a magical time to spend with their loved ones.
“Yet for many older people, Christmas is a thoroughly miserable time which reinforces their feelings of loss and loneliness.
“We understand that in today’s society families are widely dispersed so visiting older relatives can be challenging. But our research shows that making the effort to keep in touch can make a big difference to older people who tend to be stoical and reluctant to admit how lonely they are.
“It is time that everyone realised that loneliness is not an inevitable part of ageing. However, it is a serious condition which can be hugely damaging, mentally, physically and emotionally.
“We all have a responsibility to take action and help the older people in our lives, and we urge everyone to touch base with their older friends, relatives and neighbours in the run up to Christmas this year.
“By donating and signing our petition you can help older people to enjoy the festive season and the year to come; everyone should have someone at Christmas.”
But it’s not just loneliness that older people have to worry about over the winter months, the charity has warned - with shocking new figures also revealing the number of older people who died as a result of the cold weather.
Last year, in the East Midlands alone, almost 4,000 older people died as a result of the cold weather, with more than 30,000 people nationally losing their lives as a direct result of the cold - most were over the age of 75.
Age UK Nottingham and Nottinghamshire is now calling on the Government to reform its energy efficiency programmes to enable all older people to live in a warm home.
Last year in Nottinghamshire, excess winter deaths jumped by a massive 151 per cent, official figures show, although the Government said the spike was caused principally by an increase in cases of influenza.
The figures, released by the Office for National Statistics, estimated that there were 43,900 excess winter deaths in England and Wales between December 2014 and March 2015.
It is the highest figure since 1999-2000 and the first time excess deaths have exceeded 40,000 this century.
Excess winter mortality is the difference between the number of deaths in the four winter months, December to March, compared to the average number of deaths over the rest of the year.
Speaking about the results, Dot Gibson from the National Pensioners Convention said: “Successive governments have simply ignored the problem of winter deaths amongst the older population and seem to have a policy of crossing their fingers and hoping things will improve. [These} figures show that this policy simply doesn’t work.”
To help Age UK support lonely older people and find out how you can help by donating, volunteering and signing its petition calling on the Government to take action go to: www.ageuk.org.uk/christmas.
For information on staying warm, go to www.ageuk.org.uk/home-and-care/housing-choices/campaign-for-warm-homes/