Age UK programme shows promise in combating loneliness

A pilot programme launched by charity Age UK has shown great promise in reducing loneliness in older people.

The ‘Testing Promising Approaches to Reducing Loneliness’ explores ways in which to tackle loneliness – research from the charity has shown that half a million people over the age of 60 in the UK spend every day alone, with nearly half a million people going five or six days without seeing or speaking to anyone.

Further to this, 1.2 million older people are chronically lonely – this is an issue which needs to be addressed as, not only is this unfair on those feeling this way, but it can have an impact on demand for healthcare services. Loneliness can lead to health problems such as heart conditions, dementia and depression.

The report follows Age UK’s latest campaign, ‘No one should have no one’, calling on the public to donate their time to an Age UK befriending service.

The Age UK pilot allowed eight branches of the charity to extend their outreach programme and experiment with different ways in which to combat loneliness in older people in their area. This included:

  • Recruiting ‘eyes on the ground’ to identify older people who are experiencing or at risk of loneliness, working with people such as hairdressers, shopkeepers and faith groups
  • Developing co-operative networks with professionals, such as GPs, nurses, social workers and police
  • The use of befriending schemes to provide telephone support and face-to-face companionship
  • Helping frontline staff understand and recognise signs of loneliness

Staff and volunteers would conduct a ‘guided conversation’ with those experiencing loneliness – a loosely structured interview to figure out more about them and identify the best course of action, whether that be signing up for befriending, a local social group or putting them in touch with like-minded people. Some learned IT skills to keep in touch with family and friends, or given practical support to get back on their feet after illness. Others were supported to get access to certain benefits they hadn’t been claiming, such as Attendance Allowance and Pension Credit.

The majority, 88%, of participants said they felt less lonely after taking part in the programme – a huge success.

The charity is now calling on MPs to make tackling loneliness in later life a priority on their agenda.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: “This new analysis shows that about a million older people in our country are profoundly alone, many of whom are likely to be enduring the pain and suffering of loneliness. That’s why the early results of our pilot programme into tackling loneliness in later life are so important: nine in ten older people who were often lonely when they started the programme were less lonely six to twelve weeks later, with many also saying they felt generally happier, more confident and more independent as a result.

“Unfortunately there is no simple solution for loneliness but our pilot programme shows we really can make a difference and provides crucial insights into how the problem can be successfully overcome. In particular we have learned that to be effective in identifying and helping lonely older people we have to treat them with sensitivity and recognise their individual needs, and we also have to channel the skills of professionals in the NHS and beyond, and the goodwill of local communities.

“We dare to hope that our pilot programme contains the seeds of a new grass-roots movement with the potential to transform lonely older people’s lives for the better. Over the next few years Age UK is committed to further developing and embedding this evidence-based approach to tackling loneliness and to working with everyone who share our goals, locally and nationally, in doing so.”

Anyone who is experiencing feelings of loneliness and would like to sign up to receive Age UK’s telephone befriending service should visit www.ageuk.org.uk/no-one. People can also call Age UK Advice free of charge on 0800 169 6565 or contact their local Age UK to see what services are available locally.

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