Veteran television presenter Esther Rantzen has launched a new charity which aims to give older people a shoulder to lean in tough times or whenever they feel lonely.
Known as The Silver Line, the charity has been described as ChildLine for the elderly and will operate a dedicated telephone service for the old and infirm to use.
In a blog for the Daily Telegraph, Ms Rantzen, 71, said a study conducted by Help the Aged in 2006 found than more than one million people over the age of 65 feel lonely often or always.
Currently, half of people over 75 live on their own and a fifth of that number do not spend any time in the company of others on a normal day.
It is estimated that loneliness can be as detrimental to a person's health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and worse than obesity.
"I survive on a lazy, unhealthy diet of porridge and cheese and biscuits when I’m on my own. Why eat properly, when you only have yourself to cook for? Walking is fun as a couple, but how can you persuade yourself to exercise when you are walking on your own?" Ms Rantzen, who recently became a widow, wrote.
"The damage to mental health is just as serious. Loneliness causes depression, it can erode confidence so badly that the front door becomes an impassable barrier."
Ms Rantzen told of the letters she receives from older people each week, many of which include people talking about how they feel isolated, but have too much pride to admit it to their families.
She said through her experience in launching ChildLine during the 1980s, she knew that people find it easier to confide in a stranger over the telephone.
The Silver Line has been piloted in the north of England and has already taken more than 4,000 calls.
Ms Rantzen hopes the service will soon become a free national number known to everyone and is looking to launch nationally before Christmas. The service has also just received £5 million in funding from the National Lottery.
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