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Age UK pilot programme shows great promise in reducing loneliness

Published on 06 January 2017 12:01 AM

With 1.2 million older people in the UK chronically lonely, an Age UK trial has been successful in testing new approaches to combatting isolation.

  • New research has found that nearly half a million people over the age of 60 usually spend every day alone
  • A further half a million go at least five or six days a week without seeing or speaking to anyone at all
  • An Age UK trial programme taking a community-based approach to combatting widespread loneliness has successfully reduced isolation among the majority of trial participants.

No one should have no one

These statistics around loneliness were featured in Age UK's latest report ‘No one should have no one: working to end loneliness amongst older people.'

The report warned that loneliness leads to an increased demand on health services, partly because isolated people are more likely to develop health conditions, such as heart problems, depression and dementia.

The launch of the report follows Age UK's no one should have no one campaign which last month urged people to pledge their support for lonely older people by donating or volunteering.

The pilot programme, entitled ‘Testing Promising Approaches to Reducing Loneliness' explored new ways to tackle the isolation plaguing so many people.

How did it tackle loneliness?

The pilot programme enabled eight local Age UKs to develop how they find and help lonely older people. This was done in three ways:

  1. Recruiting ‘eyes on the ground' to identify older people who are lonely or at risk of becoming lonely. Those recruited, such as hairdressers and shopkeepers, had strong community connections.
  2. Developing co-operative networks with professionals in voluntary and state services such as GPs, nurses and social workers, who were already in contact with older people at risk of loneliness.
  3. Using traditional befriending services to provide low level telephone support and short term face to face friendship for older people to reconnect with the community.

Some older people were matched with volunteer befrienders or introduced to social groups. Others learnt IT skills to stay in touch with friends and family, or were given practical support to help them get back on their feet after a fall or illness.

Find out more about Testing Promising Approaches

Happier and less nervous: what participants say

It was an effective approach, according to participants whose feedback was very positive. A significant majority (88 per cent) of lonely older people participating in the trial experienced a reduction in loneliness.

"It's not so much about being alone," said one participant, "It's about being lonely, sometimes even when people are visiting…. I'm feeling happier and less nervous now."

"Getting older people to engage and acknowledge their loneliness was challenging at times, but taking an individual approach to each client really pays off." - Age UK Volunteering and Community Activities Manager

Be the 'eyes on the ground'

Age UK is calling on all MPs to put the issue of loneliness in later life firmly on the Government's agenda.

It is asking MPs to make the case for investment in local community resources to support sustainable, long-term action to help lonely older people.

The Charity also outlines ways in which the general public can play their part to end loneliness amongst older people. Being the ‘eyes on the ground' to spot loneliness amongst older customers, patients, friends, relatives and neighbours, and referring them on to people who can help could make a difference to a lonely older person's life.

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Last updated: Dec 05 2018

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