By Grzegorz Wrzosek, Country Manager for Promedica24 (https://promedica24.co.uk/)
Loneliness is now thought to present as great a risk to our health as obesity or smoking, with social isolation being linked by research to serious medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.
We also know that older people are particularly vulnerable to loneliness and social isolation. As people age they might leave the workplace, become less active or mobile, live further away from their relatives, and family and friends might pass away. In fact, according to Age UK, around 2 million people over the age of 75 live alone and around 1.4 million people say they are often lonely. This was also hugely compounded by the pandemic, with many older people forced to isolate because of the increased risks to their health.
Those of us who work with older people have been aware of this issue for many years but due to changing societal structures and increasing public sector budgetary restraints, proposed solutions have often been forced to take a back seat.
However, the adversity of the pandemic has also bred innovation, and a number of new digital platforms are now being set up to combat loneliness among older people. While many people become less physically active as they age, and illness or disability might constrain people’s mobility, that doesn’t mean they have less desire to be socially active or enthusiastic about joining activities.
The loneliness epidemic can be ignored no longer and digital platforms provide an opportunity for connection and engagement which can have an invaluable impact on someone’s life. The key advantage of platforms like these for older people, particularly those with mobility issues, is the ease of access. You can join a class, community or event from the comfort of your own home.
We’ve seen the success of online communities and forums like Silversurfers or Gransnet, and at ProMedica24 we work with the digital events platform Mirthy.
Older people are adopting tech rapidly, closing the gap with younger generations who had previously been much more advanced in terms of their digital understanding and usage. However, there are still millions of people over the age of 55 who are not online and we must work to make sure they are not being excluded digitally. For those of us in the caring community, our role is to support people to set-up and use these platforms. We must provide access to the technology they need like fast Wi-Fi or dongles, and helping them reach other individuals who share their likes and interests.
Many leaders in social care already use technology to assist clients, from watches which can monitor falls to medication management products. Supporting emotional and social wellbeing is as important and the care industry must invest in this area to enable the older people we work with to continue living life to the fullest.
It shouldn’t be that once we reach a certain age our interests and social life dramatically stop. We should be using all the tools at our disposal to combat loneliness among the elderly and digital tools are an important part of that work.