A pilot project will see the creation of a new befriending network in Hartlepool to help tackle loneliness.
The scheme will match older people with volunteers according to their interests and aims to reach people suffering in silence.
It is estimated that there are 2,340 older people living alone in Hartlepool and social isolation is said to be as harmful to people’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Jill Harrison, Hartlepool Borough Council’s assistant director of adult services, said: “Historically, there have been suggestions that there are people who consider going into residential care because they find it overwhelming to have to deal with their post and daily affairs alone.
“Therefore with a small amount of input from a befriender they can be helped to manage living independently for much longer.”
The befriending project was supported by members of the council’s adult services committee.
Another project planned for this year is for Cleveland Fire Brigade to identify older people who are socially isolated or lonely and point them in the direction of services and activities.
It aims to build on the contact the brigade already has in visiting people’s homes to carry out fire safety checks and offer winter warmth help.
The befriending network project will cost between £10,000 and £20,000 and come out of council reserves.
Councillor Stephen Thomas, chair of the adult services committee, said: “As far as this committee is concerned social isolation is going to be one of the key things we are going to be looking at over the coming year.”
Coun Kaylee Sirs said: “I’m so happy you are taking this forward.” But she added: “It is not just elderly people, it is right across the board these days.
“It is a massive gap in society especially in Hartlepool.”
It is hoped the two new developments will help reach isolated people who are not known to providers of existing services.
Member of the public Sue Little suggested working with funeral homes and churches to reach the recently bereaved.
Coun Carl Richardson added: “We need to think of other ways of getting the message across of what is available.”