In its first year, a free 24-hour UK helpline for the elderly has been inundated with calls about loneliness.
Founded by Esther Rantzen and aided by the Big Lottery Fund, the Silver Line took nearly 300,000 calls, and most were about feeling lonely or isolated.
More than half of callers told the helpline they had nobody else to talk to.
Some also called to report abuse or neglect in their homes or in residential care.
One of the first calls received was from a woman in a care home too afraid to give her name. But she did give the name of the care home, where the residents had been left without food and the heating turned off. The police were informed, and the residents are now safe.
Silver Line is now teaming up with the Care Quality Commission - the body that checks standards of care - to protect and support the most vulnerable.
ChildLine for Older People
As well as chatting to Silver Line on 0800 4 70 80 90, people can now call the CQC directly on 03000 61 61 61.
The chief inspector of adult social care at the CQC, Andrea Sutcliffe, said: "We believe that working together, we will be able to improve the standards of care for older people that may be falling short of the quality they need and deserve. It is also an opportunity to recognise examples of excellence and to highlight best practice to share with others."
The Silver Line uses trained staff to:
- Offer information, friendship and advice
- Link callers to local groups and services
- Offer regular befriending calls
- Protect and support those who are suffering abuse and neglect
Callers can receive a regular weekly friendship call or email or join a Silver Circle and take part in a regular group call on subjects that may interest them.
A friendly voice
Dorothy Mills, 85, from Lancashire, became a widow after 58 years of a very happy marriage.
With no children and her only surviving brother living abroad, Dorothy has no family around her.
She says it's the loneliness that is hardest to bear.
"You can't see it or smell it. But you feel it. Loneliness is like a deadness.
"It's a feeling of being abandoned," she says.
"The hardest thing is eating alone and the flat, dead nights… there is nothing worse than trying to eat a meal on your own in my opinion.
"It seems to bring it home to you."
Dorothy uses Silver Line to chat.
"It's lovely. I have a weekly call, and I so look forward to it. We can chat about anything. We just talk as friends do. It's a lovely, friendly feeling. I'm back to life!"
Esther Rantzen said: "We knew loneliness existed in this country, but the extent of this epidemic of loneliness and isolation suffered by people over 65 has shocked and alarmed us.
"Many of our callers ring us on a regular basis because they tell us we are the reason they can get through the day."