The use of telephone befriending in low level support for socially isolated older people – an evaluation


Mima Cattan
School of Health, Community and Education Studies
Northumbria University
B125, Coach Lane Campus West
Newcastle upon Tyne, NE7 7XA


There is increasing policy recognition that the alleviation of social isolation and loneliness in older people should be prioritised. Recently, technology, such as telephone networks and the Internet, has received attention in supporting isolated and lonely older people. Despite lack of evidence, telephone befriending has been considered an effective low-level method to decrease loneliness among older people. This study evaluated the impact of a national befriending scheme for isolated and/or lonely older people, involving eight project sites across the UK 2007–2008. The purpose was to assess the impact of different models of telephone-based befriending services on older people’s health and well-being. A mixed methods approach was used. This paper reports on the findings from 40 in-depth interviews with older service recipients. The most important finding was that the service helped older people to gain confidence, re-engage with the community and become socially active again. Three topics were identified: why older people valued the service, what impact it had made on their health and well-being and what they wanted from the service. In addition, nine subthemes emerged: 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. In conclusion, the findings present in-depth qualitative evidence of the impact of telephone befriending on older people’s well-being. Befriending schemes provide low-cost means for socially isolated older people to become more confident and independent and develop a sense of self-respect potentially leading to increased participation and meaningful relationships.