Following its first year of operation, a free helpline for the elderly has received over 300,000 calls, having expected just 100,000. Over half of callers said they were ringing because they were feeling lonely or isolated and had no-one else to talk to.
One user of the helpline, Dorothy Mills, who has lived alone since her husband died, said: “You can't see it or smell it. But you feel it. Loneliness is like a deadness, it’s a feeling of being abandoned”.
In total, 52% of callers rang the helpline due to feeling lonely or isolated. The majority of callers (88%) lived alone and over half said they had no one else to talk to. Users of the helpline also told operators they were not frightened of dying but they were frightened of dying and not being found due to living alone.
Most of the calls were received in the evenings or at weekends, and most callers were aged between 70 and 89. Those who were over 90 made up a smaller percentage of calls but they were twice as likely to call as any other age group. Another 5% of calls reported neglect in care homes, with frightened residents left without food or heating.
Silverline founder Esther Rantzen said: "We knew loneliness existed in this country, but the extent of this epidemic of loneliness and isolation suffered by people over 65 has shocked and alarmed us. Many of our callers ring us on a regular basis because they tell us we are the reason they can get through the day".
The Good Care Group’s CEO Fiona Lowry, commented: “These reports are terribly sad and highlight the devastating impact of loneliness on elderly people. We think it is incredibly important for carers not only to meet the physical needs of elderly people, but to meet their emotional needs too and provide some much-needed social contact.”