Organiser: Friends of the Elderly.

Collaborating organisation: Ramon Molinas Foundation.

Implementation dates: 01/01/2021 – 31/03/2021.


Calls to combat loneliness (Llamadas contra el silencio), a programme that uses the phone to tackle loneliness and social isolation in elderly people

The Ramon Molinas Foundation is collaborating with Friends of the Elderly with the aim of alleviating the loneliness and social isolation suffered by many elderly people in Barcelona, which has been exacerbated by the covid-19 pandemic. Aside from being a demographic that is particularly vulnerable to the disease, additional isolation and loneliness caused by the governmental restrictions has had a huge emotional impact on elderly people.

In response, Friends of the Elderly have launched the Calls to combat loneliness (Llamadas contra el silencio) programme, adapting the way they work in order to continue to provide emotional support to vulnerable elderly people suffering from loneliness and isolation during the pandemic. The Friends of the Elderly project offers psychological and emotional support, providing advice and resolving any concerns over the phone.

A team of staff and volunteers are on hand to provide psychological and emotional support through virtual meetups and other online tools and resources. The organisation also allocates resources to provide guidance to the public and to raise awareness about the issues of loneliness and social isolation.


1,200 elderly people in Barcelona will benefit from the initiative

A total of 1,200 elderly people older than 65 years old suffering from loneliness and social isolation in Barcelona will participate in the programme during the first three months of 2021. The project is aimed at elderly people with few socioeconomic resources, with a medium level of dependency for carrying out basic activities in everyday life, that feel lonely, and that have a high level of need.

The project’s participants are referred by the Barcelona Council’s centres for social services centres, health clinics, other organisations, or by elderly people themselves, their families or neighbours. After participants are identified and their level of loneliness and isolation is assessed, the organisation assigns each person a volunteer, and monitors their progress.

Calls to combat loneliness (Llamadas contra el silencio) counts on the collaboration of 1,100 volunteers. Since the start of the pandemic, Friends of the Elderly has worked in 128 municipalities and has helped more than 2,600 people through 150,000 emotional support calls with the support of 2,611 volunteers.


Loneliness doesn’t just have an impact on the health of the elderly

In 2019, there were 1,419,370 people older than 65 years old in Catalonia. Just over 21%, around 300,000 people, are elderly and living alone. Of these, 150,000 people were known to be suffering from loneliness and social isolation. In Barcelona specifically, in the same year there were 350,065 people older than 65 years old, of whom 25.17% lived alone.

Loneliness is the subjective, unwelcome feeling of a mismatch between the quality or quantity of social contact that a person desires and what that person has in reality. Loneliness has a significant impact on the emotional wellbeing and physical health of elderly people, increasing the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, immune disorders, obesity, as well as negatively impacting mobility. Elderly people that are lonely can also suffer from depression, sleep problems, cognitive impairment, and are at greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. This has been confirmed by studies such as the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP). The study, conducted by the University of Chicago, analysed the link between loneliness and certain illnesses.

Emotional support is fundamental to alleviating loneliness. Emotional connection and fostering a network of support helps to improve personal autonomy, trust and community participation in elderly people.


Friends of the Elderly, an organisation with more than three decades of experience in the fight against loneliness in older people

Friends of the Elderly was launched in Barcelona in 1987, but its origins date back to the post-war period. Les petits frères des Pauvres was founded in Paris in 1946, with the objective of launching a programme that fostered emotional support for older people that had lost their families and social network.

Taking inspiration from the French organisation, Friends of the Elderly began to provide services to elderly people in the city of Barcelona. The aim was to fight against loneliness and social marginalisation with a befriending programme managed by volunteers, and by raising awareness of the problem in wider society.

Three decades later, Friends of the Elderly has expanded its reach and impact across the region. The organisation is present in 36 municipalities in Catalonia, providing support to more than 175,000 elderly people, and is made up of around 2,000 volunteers. Throughout the year 2018, Friends of the Elderly carried out 152,000 hours of companionship and organised 798 activities. The foundation is also a member of the National Federation of Friends of the Elderly and the Les petits frères des Pauvres-Friends of the elderly International Foundation, recognised by the UN.


Links of interest:

Friends of the Elderly website.