A study was carried out on the impact of a national befriending scheme for isolated and/or lonely older people, involving eight project sites across the UK. The purpose was to identify the impact of different models of telephone-based companionship services on older people’s well-being, and examine the extent to which companionship services are of preventive value for older people and their carers.
The most important finding was that the service helped older people to gain confidence, re-engage with the community and become socially active again. The participants who received companionship telephone calls stated a feeling of; life is worth living, gaining a sense of belonging, knowing they had a friend, a healthy mind is a healthy body, the alleviation of loneliness and anxiety, increased self-confidence, ordinary conversation, a trusted and reliable service, the future - giving something back.
All the participants commented on the big difference the telephone calls had made to their lives. Participants felt they had a reason to keep going, they had a purpose in life and, importantly, life was once again worth living. Many of the older people who were interviewed described themselves as socially isolated because they were housebound. They commented on how they were no longer able to go out because of their physical health and this made them feel downhearted, isolated and weepy at times. The telephone befriending service made a big difference because it brought the older people into contact with other people, as this comment illustrates:
‘It brightens up your day when you’ve got nobody. It makes you feel better, it really does. If you didn’t look forward to it, it wouldn’t matter would it? I’ve got nobody, no neighbours. I’m on my own all the time. It’s nice to know you’ve got somebody connected with you.’ (Female, 76)
Participants talked about a sense of belonging since they had become involved in the telephone companionship service. They felt they were not forgotten; this was particularly relevant for those who were without family. Participants also commented on how being part of the telephone companionship service had increased their self-worth. It gave participants a tangible link with the outside world rather than the focus simply being their own world, which more often than not, was constrained by the same four walls every day.
The importance of this link to the outside world is exemplified by the following comment:
‘It makes you understand that you’re part of the world and there are other people who are interested in your world. You’re not on your own. I do think an awful lot of her, no doubt about that. It certainly brightens my day and sometimes it will be the only call I get all day. Apart from having more calls I can’t see what else I can hope for.’ (Female, 82)
Participants relied on their Companion for friendship. The contact, therefore, represented more than simply an opportunity to have a chat. Participants wanted to establish a meaningful friendship with their Companion who they felt cared about them.
It was comforting to know they were not alone, as this comment by one female participant illustrates:
‘You can’t put it into words. It’s just knowing that there’s somebody there, especially when you live on your own. It’s just priceless. ‘I wouldn’t be without her. It’s fabulous. I look forward to it. It’s absolutely brilliant when she rings up!’ (Female, 72)