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Silver Line for sunset years

When was the last time you called or spent some time with an elderly relative or friend?

The very real physical and mental health risks posed by loneliness amongst isolated older people have been highlighted in a new report from ‘The Centre for Social Justice’ (CSJ).

The report is an evaluation of a pilot scheme in UK calledThe Silver Line,’ a 24/7 hotline for older people, with the slogan, ‘No question too big, no problem too small, no need to be alone.’

Depressing age

The Silver Line was started by Esther Rantzen, founder of ChildLine in UK, because of the needs she saw in her peers who experienced isolation, loneliness and depression in their older years.

One letter she received said the following:

“I cannot get out on my own due to health problems, so it can be as much as three days I go without talking to anyone … I dread the winter nights when everything seems to close in around me and I feel so isolated. I am an optimist by nature and sometimes I need that to get through another pointless day where I feel as if I am a waste of space.”

Comfort call

The CSJ found in their research that the simple act of picking up the phone and calling an isolated senior citizen once a week can have a huge impact.
The Silver Line acts as a hub connecting elderly callers initially with someone who can listen and talk whatever the time of day, and provides links to immediate care and solutions to pressing issues through a wide network of existing community organisations.

They then assign a Silver Line Friend who will call once a week to have a chat, and ideally be able to connect each caller to local communities who can provide ongoing friendship.

Lost connection

Most of the older callers who access The Silver Line service do so because they have either lost connection with sources of family or community help (through the loss of a spouse, financial hardship, poor health, ageist attitudes or family breakdown), or sadly, they simply do not wish to ‘make a fuss’ or ‘be a burden’ on their children and extended family.

The statistics make grim reading:

“A survey by the ‘Campaign to End Loneliness’ found that 42% of older people reported that if they need help, they do not know where to turn.”

“It has been estimated that more than a million people aged 65 and over feel lonely often or always and a similar number feel trapped in their homes.”
“More than half of people aged 75-years-old and over live alone and nearly a fifth of those spend zero hours with other people on a typical day.”

“Television is the main form of company for half of all older people.”

“In 2011, 246,000 older people spent Christmas Day alone – a number equivalent to the population of Brighton.”

“The Mental Health Foundation reports that two in five older people living in care homes are depressed.”

“Loneliness can cause serious damage, physically and mentally, as dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and more dangerous than obesity.”

Marked improvement

During the course of their evaluation of The Silver Line, the CSJ found that the weekly phone call from a Silver Line Friend who takes an ongoing interest in their life can bring about change in perspective and a marked improvement in outlook for those accessing the service.

“Many older people are benefiting in clear and significant ways; such as feeling more able to cope, more connected to other people, uplifted and in better mental health; from having regular calls from a Silver Line Friend and being able to chat at length, whenever they want to advisers on the helpline.”

The Silver Line is a fantastic service, and there are others like it in New Zealand, but the need for these services only arises because our older community members lose touch with their families and communities.

Remembering someone (of any age), and spending time with them speaks volumes about their worth, and their place in the world. Life shared is life with dignity.

Jeremy Vargo is Media & Communications Officer at Maxim Institute based in Auckland, with whose permission the above article has been reproduced.

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