‘Loneliness is as bad for you as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and worse for you than obesity’

Half a million older people in the UK say they go five or six days without seeing or speaking to anyone.

Loneliness and social isolation can affect people of all ages but the older generation is most likely to find themselves without family or friends to talk to.

Contact the Elderly is the UK charity dedicated to tackling this and it has been working for more than 50 years to fight loneliness by providing regular social gatherings for groups of people aged 75 and over who live alone.

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Social gatherings organised by Contact the Elderly volunteers help people to form new friendships. Sometimes, they have a special theme, like this royal wedding gathering last year, co-ordinated by Maggie Farmer, centre

Julia Rivas, the charity’s development officer covering the whole of Sussex and Surrey, said: “In the UK, more than two million people aged over 75 live alone. This is an increase of almost 25 per cent compared to 20 years ago.

“It is different for every person but I tend to feel like I need company after spending one, maybe two, days on my own, and that’s when I know there is someone I could spend time with. Imagine being on your own for six days in a row and there being nothing you can do about it.

“Loneliness is increasingly being recognised as a serious health issue. Lonely people have a 64 per cent increased chance of developing clinical dementia, suffering from heart disease and depression.

“Loneliness is as bad for you as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and worse for you than obesity.

“If trends continue, the number of older people living on their own will rise and along with it the number of them that are chronically lonely.”

Contact the Elderly’s gatherings, often in the form of a tea party, help people to form friendships and gives people something to look forward to.

One member to benefit said: “I didn’t get a single birthday card last year. But I joined a Contact the Elderly group and now I have 16 cards in my front room. I haven’t felt so loved in a long time.”

Another said they had such a lovely time at their group, they had not felt their arthritis all afternoon.

Volunteers also benefit from the new relationships and many say it has improved their confidence to respond to the needs of others with kindness and compassion.

Contact the Elderly has a small national office in London and a network of staff based across the UK. The development officers look to develop new groups and last year, 99 new groups were launched and 2,500 new volunteers were recruited, bringing the total to 11,002.

Overall, 6,223 older guests attended the groups and of these, a total of 1,864 new guests were welcomed.

Julia works part-time, on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Email [email protected], call 01273 805451 or visit www.contact-the-elderly.org.uk for more information.