Over half of older people believe technology can reduce the risks of social isolation and loneliness

Video technology offers a lifeline to supported housing providers to connect the unconnected

  • Study by Appello and the Good Things Foundation looks at the impact of technology on older people
  • 7% of over 75 year olds don’t see anyone and 7% don’t speak to anyone in an average week
  • 30% feel lonely or socially isolated occasionally or often
  • 56% would welcome new technology if it improves their quality of life
  • Landline phones and safety alarms among the most-commonly-used technologies
  • 83% have never used video technologies
  • Barriers include cost and a lack of understanding
  • Housing providers urged to upgrade from analogue to digital communications technologies

Technology offers a lifeline for older people at risk of social isolation and loneliness, according to new research.

While not a substitute for human interaction; technology has the potential to connect the unconnected, helping reduce the risk of social isolation and loneliness

A study carried out by technology-enabled care services provider, Appello, in collaboration with digital charity, the Good Things Foundation, revealed that 7% of over 75 year olds don’t see anyone and 7% don’t speak to anyone in an average week.

And more than a quarter see two or less people in a week and 45% speak to two or less people.

Unsurprisingly then, a third of over 75 year olds admit to feeling lonely, and 30% feel socially isolated, occasionally or often.

In addition to highlighting the scale of social isolation and loneliness, insights from the study suggest a huge opportunity for housing providers to improve the lives of their residents by upgrading existing technology and or embracing mature and readily-available communications technologies to connect older people with neighbours, friends, family and carers.

According to the research over half (56%) of older people would welcome new technology if it improves their quality of life and the same number agree that ‘technology can aid communication and help close the physical gap between distant family and friends’.

Our survey challenges the common misconception that older people don’t like or want technology - they absolutely do when it benefits their wellbeing and with the right support in place

While a landline phone remains the most-commonly-used form of communications technology for over 75 year olds (93%), personal safety alarms, installed in many supported or assisted living environments, are the second most popular – cited by one third of older people surveyed.

By upgrading analogue technology that supports resident safety to a digital service that also promotes wellbeing, housing providers are in a unique position to help tackle social isolation and loneliness.

Tim Barclay, chief executive of Appello, said: “It’s true that the use of technology to communicate is not universally accepted, but there is a strong link between those that find technology unappealing and a lack of understanding or difficulty using it, as well as how accessible it is.”

Two in three older people admit they don’t understand technology or know how to use it; and 55% state it’s access to funds to purchase it that prevents them embracing digital – barriers that housing providers are uniquely placed to break down, according to the study.

The majority (94%) of those who find technology unappealing said they prefer face-to-face communication, suggesting a lack of awareness around video calling technology.

Indeed, 83% of over 75 year olds said they never use video calling such as Skype or FaceTime, representing the most underutilised method of communication cited and a largely-untapped opportunity for housing providers to utilise mature technologies to connect residents.

Barclay said: “While not a substitute for human interaction; technology has the potential to connect the unconnected, helping reduce the risk of social isolation and loneliness.

In the future, smart devices and apps that support mobility, social inclusion and independence in supported housing could become as indispensable as personal alarms, pull cords and door entry systems are today – particularly as we see the switchover from analogue to digital

“Our survey challenges the common misconception that older people don’t like or want technology - they absolutely do when it benefits their wellbeing and with the right support in place.

“In the future, smart devices and apps that support mobility, social inclusion and independence in supported housing could become as indispensable as personal alarms, pull cords and door entry systems are today – particularly as we see the switchover from analogue to digital.

“Housing providers that are willing to embrace this technology now are primed to be at the forefront of a move to ensure multiple generations of older people can live happy, healthy, engaged and independent lives for as long as possible.”

Janet Morrison, chairman of the Campaign to End Loneliness, added: “Many people assume that if you live in supported housing, housing association or care homes you won’t be lonely – and that’s clearly not true.

“We know that social interaction is limited because of barriers created by physical disability and, or, cognitive impairment among residents, but we should also acknowledge that additional barriers are created by risk adverse housing providers and, or, a failure to recognise the importance of maintaining social connections for older people.

“We’ve seen that technology can play a vital role in enabling older people to maintain and develop their social connections.

“While some technologies are currently inaccessible and unpalatable to older people, others – such as mobile phones, PCs, digital TVs and, increasingly, tablets – are now commonly accepted and accessible. These technologies could play a particularly-important role in supporting the delivery of services in supported housing.”

Housing providers that are willing to embrace this technology now are primed to be at the forefront of a move to ensure multiple generations of older people can live happy, healthy, engaged and independent lives for as long as possible

And Helen Milner, chief executive of the Good Things Foundation, comments: “There is a clear correlation between digital exclusion and social exclusion, and people who don’t have digital skills and confidence are for more likely to face other social exclusions. This means that helping people to access technology is about far more than just connecting them to friends and family, but helping them to access the opportunities that many of us take for granted.”

A free to download guide entitled The Role of Technology in Combating Loneliness and Social Isolation: A Guide for Housing Providers is being made available. Click here to access.

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