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News : Call Center Keeps Elderly Company
Blackpool, England, Sept 6, 2016 -- The woman on the other end of the phone spoke lightheartedly of spring and her 81st birthday the previous week. "Who did you celebrate with, Beryl?" asked Alison, whose job was to offer a kind ear.
"No one, I..." And with that, Beryl’s cheer turned to despair.
Her voice began to quaver as she acknowledged that she had been alone at home not just on her birthday, but for days and days. The telephone conversation was the first time she had spoken in more than a week.
About 10,000 similar calls come in weekly to an unassuming office building in this seaside town at the northwest reaches of England, which houses The Silver Line Helpline, a 24-hour call center for older adults seeking to fill a basic need: contact with other people.
Loneliness, which Emily Dickinson described as "the Horror not to be surveyed," is a quiet devastation. But in Britain, it is increasingly being viewed as something more: a serious public health issue deserving of public funds and national attention.
Working with local governments and the National Health Service, programs aimed at mitigating loneliness have sprung up in dozens of cities and towns. Even fire brigades have been trained to inspect homes not just for fire safety but for signs of social isolation.
"There’s been an explosion of public awareness here, from local authorities to the Department of Health to the media," said Paul Cann, chief executive of Age UK Oxfordshire and a founder of The Campaign to End Loneliness, a five-year-old group based in London. "Loneliness has to be everybody’s business."
Researchers have found mounting evidence linking loneliness to physical illness and to functional and cognitive decline. As a predictor of early death, loneliness eclipses obesity. "The profound effects of loneliness on health and independence are a critical public health problem," said Dr. Carla M. Perissinotto, a geriatrician at the University of California, San Francisco. "It is no longer medically or ethically acceptable to ignore older adults who feel lonely and marginalized."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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About The Silver Line:
The Silver Line is the only free confidential helpline providing information, friendship and advice to older people, open 24 hours a day, every day of the year.
Published: Wednesday, September 7, 2016