Time for action on loneliness

Esther Rantzen pictured at the Leeds University Business School
Esther Rantzen pictured at the Leeds University Business School
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LONELINESS is an epidemic that’s easy to solve – by company, says Esther Rantzen.

The Silver Line founder was in Leeds yesterday to speak about the scourge of loneliness, something that she was only too well aware of after experiencing it herself at the age of 71.

Ms Rantzen said: “I know how I felt when living alone for the first time having moved from the family home at the age of 71 to a two-bedroom flat.

“All my life I had lived with family, flatmates or my husband and it was very tough coming home from a busy day and finding yourself in a dark flat with nobody to talk to, no one to have a cup of tea with or watch television with.

“I wrote about it and was inundated with responses. I thought a helpline could fill some of the gap that loneliness creates.”

After getting the support of the Campaign to End Loneliness, work began and the Silver Line was launched in November last year.

Ms Rantzen said: “We received between seven and eight hundred calls a day and the biggest problem they bring to us is loneliness. 53 per cent say they have no one else to talk to.”

The free, confidential line is always open. Ms Rantzen said that 60 per cent of calls were received out of office hours, when other helplines might be closed.

She said: “We had an independent evaluation, and the name of the report was a direct quote from one of our callers, who said ‘When I get off the phone I feel like I belong to the human race’. Others have told us that they think it is wonderful to talk to someone who seems interested in what they have to say.

“That says something about the way people feel - loneliness erodes confidence. One lady to wrote to us and said that she’d felt like a waste of space. No older person should feel like that.”

Ms Rantzen was in the region yesterday to speak at the University of Leeds’ AKTIVE conference, where technology was touted as a possible solution to loneliness in older people.

Meanwhile delegates at the first Yorkshire Loneliness Summit, also held yesterday, were told that there are no excuses for keeping loneliness in the shadows,

The Campaign to End Loneliness brought its first regional summit to the Park Plaza hotel in Leeds. Almost 100 experts shared best practice in an effort to tackle the issue that effects more than 91,300 older people living in the region.

Lorraine Jackson, acting deputy director for prevention, housing and dementia at the Department of Health (DoH) told the summit that the detrimental health effects of loneliness were evidently clear - and should be acted on.

She said: “Loneliness has been a problem that was mainly hidden away, but we don’t have an excuse anymore.”

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