As people get older, they may find themselves in situations where they are alone and socially isolated in their own homes.
They may have lost their partner, their kids moved far away, or simply been abandoned over time at home.
These so called “elder orphans” are in a place, through no fault of their own, where they have no one to help them when they need it and have very little support.
It is estimated that between 10-15 per cent of older people experience depression and about 10 per cent experience anxiety.
Rates of depression among people living in residential aged-care are believed to be much higher, at around 35 per cent.
Many people still seem to feel there is a stigma attached to depression and anxiety, viewing them as weaknesses or character flaws rather than a genuine health condition.
And are, thus, more hesitant to share their experiences of anxiety and depression with others, often ignoring symptoms over long periods of time.
So what can be done to assist these people who may simply need someone to talk to?
In the UK, there is a service called The Silver Line which was created in 2013 by the people behind Childline.
What The Silver Line essentially is, is a 24-hour, 365-day-a-year helpline that offers information and friendship, and signposts people to local organisations for support or social activities.
Since it’s creation, the Silver Line Helpline has received over 1.4 million calls with over two-thirds of these calls were made overnight or at weekends when no other helpline is available for older people who may be lonely, isolated or confused.
According to their website, they now receive around 10,000 calls every week from lonely and isolated older people, with 53% of callers saying they have literally no-one else to speak to.
In Australia, there are phone services available for younger people (Kids Help Line) and a number of services available for mental health issues (Beyondblue and Lifeline) but none specifically targeted for older people.
So would a Silver Line type of service be good to implement in Australia? Statistics would suggest so.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2013), the number of elderly people living alone continued to rise along with increasing age, from 29.7 per cent for those 75 to 85 years old, to 35.2 per cent after the age of 85+ years old.
Elderly women in particular were more likely than elderly men to find themselves living alone.
The latest Productivity Commission Report on Government Services, reported 16.2 per cent of people aged 65+ years never left their home, or did not leave home as regularly as they ideally wanted to.
This increased to almost half (46.8 per cent) for older Australians with a profound or severe disability.
As a society, we should care for and look after one another – regardless of age and status. Even a simple phone call to an elderly person can make a world of difference to someone who feels they have no one to talk to.
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