For many elderly people, living alone can be extremely difficult, often leading to feelings of isolation or loneliness. Age UK have reported that over a million people in the UK may not speak to a friend, neighbour or family member for over a month, and a new paper published by Age UK entitled “Predicting Prevalence of loneliness at older ages” (January 2016), analysing data collected by the English Longitudinal Study on Ageing (ELSA), showed that poor health, being widowed or living alone, are the main reasons leading to loneliness.
While many communities in the UK offer a wealth of social activities for their elderly citizens, it doesn’t necessarily suit everyone. For those that prefer the familiarity of their own home, a cup of tea and a chat from a befriender can make all the difference to a person’s life.
There are many befriending schemes across the country, such as those organised by Age UK, where volunteers visit an elderly person once a week for an hour giving them the opportunity to talk about anything and everything over a cup of tea and a biscuit. A strong friendship bond is often made and the charity says there’s evidence to suggest it’s helping to keep numbers visiting GP surgeries down. One lady, who looks forward to her weekly visit since her husband died, commented that she doesn’t go to the doctor as much as she has someone to share her worries with. (Guardian Newspaper 2/2/2016)
In 2013 Age UK Cornwall set up an intensive befriending scheme known as the Newquay Pathfinder. This involved 106 elderly people, all of whom had a high risk of being admitted to hospital. The scheme is now being rolled out in eight different regions of the UK and, the charity says: “provides quantifiable evidence that supporting those who are elderly or have chronic conditions at home can reduce financial pressure on the health service.” According to the charity, emergency hospital admissions in the Newquay area reduced by 30%, with a 40% reduction in acute admissions for long-term conditions and a 5% reduction in the cost of adult social care.
Making a difference
Befriending schemes really do seem to be extremely valued by those in need. A number of Consultus’ employees volunteer for Esther Rantzen’s Silver Line charity making weekly telephone calls to elderly people across the country with the aim to help combat loneliness and give them a focus to look forward to during the week. In the first two years since its national launch, the Silver Line Helpline has received over 680,000 calls, 53% from people saying they had literally no-one else to speak to. The charity now receives around 1300 calls every day from lonely and isolated older people and has over 2000 volunteers from organisations across the country making regular weekly friendship calls to older people. Silver Circles organises group calls for people with shared interests and Silver Letters has been introduced for people who prefer the written word or are hearing impaired.
With the help of such amazing schemes, it all helps to give a bit of sunshine to a lonely person.