A social lifeline for seniors
Loneliness and isolation among older people, half of whom in the United Kingdom live alone after the age of 75, can have a hugely detrimental effect on their health. Figures from the UK Department of Health indicate that social isolation is as dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, causing depression and heart problems. Socially isolated adults are also more likely to undergo early admission into residential care or hospital.
Swiss Re and the Swiss Re Foundation became early supporters of The Silver Line helpline after its founder and chair Esther Rantzen CBE approached Swiss Re executives in the UK with her vision to create a free, 24-hour helpline where older people can talk in confidence, get friendly advice about services in their area or just have a chat. People who want to talk with the same person on a regular basis may request weekly calls from volunteers known as Silver Line Friends, who share The Silver Line’s belief that a simple connection with another human being can make a positive difference. As one caller told his Silver Line Friend, “When I get off the phone, I feel like I belong to the human race”.
The Swiss Re Foundation supported a pilot by The Silver Line that expanded the service from Manchester and the North West to Newcastle and the North East, all in the UK. Over the course of the pilot, the helpline fielded more than 3 000 calls and 400 requests for Silver Line Friends. Most callers were female, but men called too. The majority were between 60 and 80 years old.
In the project, data were collected on helpline users’ initial reason for calling. Whilst 25% requested telephone befriending straight away, 12% expressed feelings of loneliness and isolation and required emotional support. Another 19% asked for general information and 13% for specific advice, 5% wanted to volunteer and 2% called to discuss concerns about abuse. The 30% of people who called at night tended to require more emotional support.
Working with most of the key organisations operating in this sector, The Silver Line provided vital links to their services (which can be hard for individuals to access), identified gaps and overlaps in provision and encouraged feedback from older people about which services work best for them. These activities were intended to benefit the referral organisations as well as helpline callers.
The Swiss Re Foundation is one of three key founding partners of The Silver Line, along with BT and Comic Relief, whose support made the national launch of the helpline possible.