Loneliness ‘tip of the iceberg’ for older people

Published: 26 November 2015 at 12:47

Man looking to the left

Older people seeking support for loneliness are also suffering from a web of related physical and mental issues, according to a report by Anglia Ruskin University.

The study found lonely older people are more likely to suffer from a long-term illness or disability, and have low enjoyment of life. Anecdotal evidence also suggests many callers have mental health problems and that cuts to other services are exacerbating some of the problems they face.

The findings have been published in Anglia Ruskin’s evaluation of The Silver Line, the only 24-hour national confidential phone service for older people which offers them information, advice and friendship to combat loneliness.

The evaluation found three quarters of callers who responded to a survey were in poor health, compared to around one third of their contemporaries. 80% of respondents said they have a long-standing illness or disability. Only 46% of people surveyed said they often enjoy the things they do, compared to 76% of a matched sample of the older population.

The report also states that The Silver Line is succeeding in reaching out to lonely people. Over one in three people who are supported by the friendship service (in which they are matched by a like-minded volunteer) record the highest score on a scale of loneliness called the UCLA-3 index, whereas only about one in 20 people of their age and gender typically register a score this high.

The researchers measured callers’ loneliness at the beginning and end of a six-month period. They found that after six months, just under a third of people were less lonely, according to their index score.

The report recommends the charity, which receives about 1,200 calls per day, should look at categorising callers in terms of their needs, giving people with more entrenched loneliness the option of more support.

The research also suggests that only 27% of callers supported by the friendship service, and 31% of helpline callers, are men. The evaluation recommended the charity focuses on strategies which target men in particular.

Professor Stephen Moore, Professor of Healthcare Policy at Anglia Ruskin University, said:


“The fact that these older people face a set of problems which feed off one another makes the task of tackling their loneliness more difficult.

“It is also potentially more worthwhile, because helping someone to feel less lonely may mean they find other difficulties in their life easier to deal with.”