'3,600 over-65s will be alone in Wales at Christmas'
Thousands of older people in Wales will not see or hear from anyone for three days over Christmas, a charity has said.
Age Cymru estimates 3,600 over-65s will spend it alone, while 75,000 said it is not a special time for them.
Helpline The Silver Line has already received 10,000 more calls at the beginning of December than it did in the two weeks over Christmas last year.
Some who will spend Christmas alone say they cannot wait for it to be over.
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Widow Val, 76, who lives alone in Newport, admits she does not enjoy the festive period.
"I can't make any plans for Christmas, I've just got to get through it the best I can," she said.
"I presume my daughter will come but I cannot wait for Christmas to be all over.
"There are too many empty chairs now when I used to have a house full."
She receives weekly calls from a Silver Line friend called Gill who lives in Scotland, which she said provided great comfort.
Based on results from its UK-wide survey, Age Cymru estimates 14,000 older people in Wales feel lonelier at Christmas than other times of the year.
The charity said if left unaddressed, loneliness could cause long-term misery and contribute to the development of serious medical conditions, such as heart problems and strokes, mental health issues and dementia.
The Silver Line said October 2017 was its busiest month since the service began, with more than 45,000 calls, while in the first two weeks of December it took 25,500 calls - 10,000 more than during its peak "festive fortnight" from 24 December last year.
The charity's founder and president Dame Esther Rantzen said: "We hear from older people who are home alone and speak to no-one else for days on end - even family.
"Their feelings of loneliness are heightened because of their poignant memories of celebrating the season with loved ones in times gone by, as well as all the media focus and imagery around having fun with others.
"Sadly, for them Christmas is just another day to get through; loneliness is their reality every day of the year."
Milford Haven mayor Colin Sharp and his husband Guy Woodman have run a Christmas Together event for the past six years.
People who would otherwise be alone on Christmas Day are invited to attend a lunch, with games and entertainment at the Pembrokeshire town's Pill Social Centre.
Those in need are referred through the council or by health professionals and it is run by a team of 38 volunteers.
Mr Sharp said about 70% of those who attend are of pension age but many others were younger.
Mr Sharp said: "Some of the stories are horrific. There was a lady who lived up the road telling us that other than her carer who comes twice a week, which is because of her mobility, she hadn't seen anybody since October."
"We had a young lady two years ago who was 26 and the previous year her boyfriend killed himself," he said.
"She had a breakdown and was receiving help but she was moved to a new flat and she was on her own.
"So she would have been alone at Christmas Day, on a day that would have reminded her of her boyfriend's suicide the year before."
According to evidence given to the Welsh Assembly's health and social care committee, half a million people in Wales say they feel lonely often or always.
The Welsh Government has said tackling loneliness and isolation is a priority and it has developed "a number of programmes and initiatives to help tackle this problem", such as funding and support for Ageing Well in Wales.
It will publish its strategy on tackling the issue in 2019.
- Anyone experiencing loneliness or who is worried about someone can call Age Cymru Advice free on 08000 223 444, while the The Silver Line provides friendship and advice on 0800 470 8090.