Technology can play an important role in alleviating loneliness in people over the age of 50, a report commissioned by Vodafone has concluded.
The ‘Harnessing technology to tackle loneliness‘ report explains how technology can alleviate loneliness by keeping people connected to their family and friends for longer.
Despite obvious advantages, the report concedes that the lack of confidence in technology among over-50s is exacerbating the issue.
According to ONS data, one-third of older adults (65+) say they are only “a little confident” or “not at all confident” in their ability to use electronic devices for essential online activities.
The report also highlights the use of technology alongside more traditional community services to help facilitate social interaction.
The financial implications of loneliness in this age demographic are significant, incurring a £1.8 billion cost to the UK economy each year. In Scotland, the issue costs the economy around £160 million.
Public services bear a financial cost of £1 billion a year, with studies conducted at GP surgeries indicating that those feeling lonely are twice as likely to visit their GP and 3.5 times more likely to enter local authority-funded social care.
For businesses, the cost of loneliness in over 50s stands at around £800 million per year due to staff taking time off work to care for friends and family.
Christina McKelvie, Minister for Older People and Equalities, commented: “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 is doing just that. It is my hope that more businesses follow suit.”
Key recommendations for policymakers and UK businesses include the introduction of prescribing schemes so that GPs and health service practitioners are able to prescribe technology, such as wearable devices and monitoring systems, to citizens.
Financial support for independent living, which includes funding the uptake of technology in the home, is also a key recommendation contained in the report, as well as the development of tools to increase knowledge, understanding and confidence in technology.
Following the report’s findings, Vodafone is launching a nationwide programme of tech masterclasses, with five planned for Scotland.
The ‘techconnect‘ classes, which are free to attend, will take place throughout 2019 following a successful pilot last month. At these events, Vodafone tech team advisors will provide information and advice on how to set up mobile devices and use social media.
They will also help set up wearable tech and connected home devices and explain how they work. Devices such as these, the company says, can help people live more independently for longer.
Vodafone UK CEO Nick Jeffery added: “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 skills, can play an important role in reducing loneliness and enabling people to live independently for longer.”