The role of tech in alleviating loneliness in older people

Technology can play a vital role in alleviating loneliness in older people by keeping them connected with their family and friends, according to a report commissioned by Vodafone UK. But it adds that a significant number are not confident in using technology.

The report also looks at the financial implications of loneliness in the over 50s and, said Vodafone, reveals a £1.8bn per year cost to the UK economy, with the cost in Scotland amounting to £160m.

The report highlights that technology could be used alongside more traditional community services to facilitate social interaction, and that learning how to use it more fully can reduce loneliness and promote an active lifestyle.

This could help older people remain independent in their homes and communities and increase confidence and the likelihood of positive interactions, said the report. It could also help to maintain and build networks and contacts, with technology used as a way of keeping in touch with friends and family and accessing new communities and groups.

Vodafone is launching a nationwide programme of tech masterclasses, including five in Scotland, that will provide advice including how to set up a mobile phone, using social media, and using wearable technology and connected home devices.

Christina McKelvie, the Scottish Government Minister for Older People and Equalities, said: “Social isolation and loneliness can affect anyone from any background.  That means that everyone has a part to play in building a more connected Scotland and that understanding is central to our strategy.

“Businesses have an opportunity to play their part too and I am pleased that Vodafone are doing just that.  It is my hope that more businesses follow suit. We should not under-estimate the importance of digital connection to tackling isolation.

“That is why providing high quality internet access is a priority for the Scottish Government and why we have committed £600 million to ensure every home and business in Scotland can access superfast broadband.

“In addition, we’re working to improve access to mobile services with a £25 million investment to improve mobile phone coverage across Scotland. Through a range of measures and working with individuals, organisations and businesses, we can make a real difference to many lives.”

Nick Jeffery, chief executive of Vodafone UK, said: “The cost of loneliness to the individual, their friends and the economy is vast. This cost is financial, emotional and physical.

“It requires a comprehensive response from government, charities, the health system and businesses. With an increasingly ageing population we have to act quickly and work together to help solve the problem of loneliness.

“Our report shows how technology and innovation, such as smart devices, as well as teaching tech skills can play an important role in reducing loneliness and enabling people to live independently for longer.”

The report has recommendations for policymakers and UK businesses, including:

  • Social and digital prescribing: Introducing prescribing schemes so that GPs and health service practitioners are able to prescribe technology such as wearable devices and monitoring systems.
  • Revolutionising support for independent living: Financial support for independent living, including funding the take-up of technology in the home.
  • Tech toolkit:  Developing tools to increase knowledge, understanding and confidence in technology available to support independent living and tackle loneliness.