Chronic loneliness afflicting elderly 'a national shame'

Almost a million elderly people feel lonely almost all of the time, charities warn. Credit: Reuters

The loneliness epidemic afflicting almost a million people is a "national shame", Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said today.

Speaking at the National Children and Adults Services conference in Harrogate, Mr Hunt said the problem of chronic loneliness was a problem we have "utterly failed to confront as a society."

ITV News Correspondent Paul Davies reports:

Loneliness can impact people's physical health and mental health, exacerbating and accelerating the decline of diabetes, dementia, heart disease and even some cancers, doctors warn.

Read: Loneliness negatively impacts physical health and wellbeing

ITV News spoke to one elderly lady who described "crying her eyes out" with boredom and loneliness, having lived alone since her husband died in 2002.

Winifred Green, 88, said part of the problem is that young, stressed and busy people "can't understand" what old aged loneliness feels like. She said:

Read Winifred's full account: People don't understand how lonely we get

She reached out to charity Independent Age, who arranged for a companion to come visit her once a week. The charity supports people to stay happy, healthy and connected in their old age, and help those experiencing feelings of isolation access support.

Read: How to combat feelings of loneliness

Age UK a "seismic cultural shift" was needed to help curtail the growing social isolation of older people, and warned that recent government cuts were exacerbating the problem.

Read: How to combat feelings of loneliness

Read: Hunt - forgotten lonely million "ignored to our national shame"