Loneliness and isolation are killers. There is increasing evidence of this. Indeed, research suggests that loneliness is more deadly than smoking 15 cigarettes a day or obesity. For the past 4 years, I have been working to address the situation by ensuring that older people can be introduced to new technologies in ways which are engaging and which demonstrate to them their usefulness to their lives, particularly how they can enable them to communicate with friends, family, professionals and support networks. And yes, I know that digital contact can be no substitute for face-to-face interaction, but, for people who have no interactions at all, it can certainly help them to build and maintain contacts that would not otherwise be available to them.
In an era when millions of us are keeping touch with our professional and personal networks online all the time, most of the people in greatest need of regular interaction are excluded from these benefits by their own lack of knowledge, unfounded fears, and the technophobia of the professionals who work with them. The work I have done over recent years with older people has clearly demonstrated that, if approached in the right way, their interest can be sparked, their fears can be overcome, and they can be guided on the path to regular online communication.
Every year at Christmas the media picks up on stories about people’s loneliness and isolation. Well, it’s quite a long time till Christmas 2017, but I am starting early on the road to making sure that by the time Christmas comes around, major inroads can be made to changing the situation of many lonely older people.
I am looking for partners to work with me on this strategy, and funders and sponsors able to help me make it happen. Much of what follows is recycled from an earlier post, which is still relevant, and which still forms the framework for my programme to end loneliness by digital means. This year it is going to happen. Contact me if you can contribute.
Digital Tea Parties
During the past four years I have run Digital Tea Parties in Leeds, Trafford, Whitby, Calderdale, and London, and there are a number of others in the planning stage. Digital Tea Parties are a great way of introducing older people to new technologies in a non-threatening environment. They allow the focus to be put on human communications and individual and community interests, rather than shiny tech. They are a familiar environment, in trusted locations, and they offer opportunities for those with a degree of interest to take the lead in introducing their peers to new gadgets. It is important in my view not to try to force people to use technologies they are uncomfortable with at the outset. Seeing others like them having a go can overcome that “tech is not for people like me” prejudice that often acts as a barrier.
I have worked with partners to connect up a number of sheltered housing complexes, provide free wifi throughout and run a number of digital tea party-type sessions to kickstart residents’ use of new technologies.
I am convinced that one of the barriers to new technology adoption is that older people struggle to find content that is of interest to them. And, in addition to this, I believe that activities such as slumping in front of the television actually contribute to older people’s social isolation by disengaging them from the world around them. Work at Digital Tea Parties, particularly the reaction to the pub crawl video at Urmston, convinced me that people need content to engage with that is directly relevant to them, as I expanded on here.
I am also seeking funding to run this Seaside Recollections project in which I would tour seaside locations guided in real-time by older people in pursuit of their memories of childhood holidays.
Reminsences and recordings
I have conducted a number of video and audio interviews with older people. I believe this is an important thing to do for a number of reasons, namely;
- it stimulates the older person’s memory
- it breaks down some of the barriers to new technology adoption
- it creates more content of interest to older people
- it can change perceptions of older people by allowing them to present themselves as they were in their younger days
- it contributes to project evaluation
Staff Digital Confidence
I am working on a number of initiatives to promote digital skills, confidence and fluency amongst staff working with older people. Funding has been very elusive for these, which is extremely disappointing, because I firmly believe that often staff act as gatekeepers, seeking to keep the older people away from technology because they are frightened of the consequences of letting them loose on it.
All of these are activities which can turn the tide in the battle to promote technology adoption among older people, and achieve the ultimate goal of breaking down loneliness and isolation. We need to roll these things out more widely and scale them up. If you can help, please let me know.