Using digital technology can help reduce loneliness among the over 50s, a new report has found.
It’s often thought that technology can further isolate older generations that don’t know how to use it, but research from Vodafone suggests it can better connect them with friends and family.
The report, launched in the House of Commons on 19 March with the support of Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, revealed loneliness in the over 50s is costing the UK economy £1.8billion per year.
According to Office of National Statistics data, a third of those aged 65 and over are only “a little confident” or “not at all confident” in using technology, particularly to access the internet.
“As people, we all need to feel part of something. This basic instinct of belonging and community is central to happiness – and is at the heart of our work across the health and care system,” Matt Hancock said.
“We launched our first ever loneliness strategy last year, and through our Ageing Society Grand Challenge we want to harness innovation to tackle loneliness and support healthy ageing
“New technologies and services that can help people stay connected and independent will play an important role in this.
“We are also investing in social prescribing schemes through the NHS Long Term Plan to see healthcare professionals playing a vital role in signposting people to local services and connecting them back to their communities.”
The reports key recommendations for policymakers:
- 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
Vodafone is launching a nationwide programme of “techconnect” masterclasses following a successful pilot which formed part of its report, Harnessing Technology to Tackle Loneliness.
During the classes the Vodafone tech team are on hand to provide help on questions from setting up smartphones to using social media.
They’ll also be available to help set up wearables and connected home devices.
The report concludes that technology can be used alongside traditional community services to encourage a more active, connected lifestyle, to reduce loneliness.
Nick Jeffery, chief executive of Vodafone UK said: “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.”
Those who feel lonely are twice as likely to visit their GP and 3.5 times more likely to enter local authority funded social care, at an estimated cost of £1 billion per year.
Business also spend an estimated £800 million per year due to staff taking time off to help a relative suffering from loneliness.
A series of 20 free techconnect events will take place across the UK this year.