Nearly half a million people over the age of 60 in the UK suffer from such extreme loneliness that they spend an entire week without meeting anyone or getting any phone call, according to a new report.
The UK's largest charity working with older people, Age UK, had commissioned a research which highlighted that 1.2 million elderly people in England have experienced loneliness for several years, which can cause chronic health problems.
The group has launched a pilot programme to train neighbours and workers to identify older people who are at risk of loneliness.
"Unfortunately, there is no simple solution for loneliness...Our pilot programme shows we really can make a difference. We have learnt that to be effective in helping lonely older people we have to 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," said Caroline Abrahams, director of Age UK.
The charity believes that this extreme loneliness among the elderly is putting additional pressure on already strained health services and has called on local politicians to make combating loneliness a key consideration in funding decisions.
People identified as lonely by Age UK groups were provided with telephone support and short-term, face-to-face companionship, with the aim of helping them reconnect with their communities.
Many were introduced to existing social groups, such as lunch clubs.
Others were enabled to set up their own social networks, via introductions to people with similar interests, or via IT skills enhancement that allowed them to use Skype to stay in touch with friends and family.
The results of the pilot scheme will feed into Age UK’s submissions to the Commission on Loneliness, devised by Labour MP Jo Cox before she was murdered last year by far-right terrorist Thomas Mair.
Research agency TNS polled UK residents aged over 60, asking them how many days a week they usually spent alone with no visits or telephone calls.
Out of 2,241 people, 498 said they spent seven days on their own and 464 said five or six days.
The results were then extrapolated to reach the UK-wide figures.