Social isolation and the feelings of loneliness it leads to are common problems for older people and some older people go for days without seeing another person. So encouraging and enabling people to go online could be one really useful means of tackling loneliness; it could offer them the chance to renew and develop social contacts and engage actively in their communities.
But we need to be sensitive to the fact that getting older people online can’t be the only solution to tackling loneliness. Not least because two thirds of over-75s
have never used in the internet, and the same number have no intention of acquiring the internet at home. So we still need to offer older people a choice about how they access public services. To those without technology skills, a trip to the local post office or real human contact is just as important. That’s why we are members of the Keep it Posted campaign which wants people to have a choice in how they receive bills and written communication.
For those who do want to embrace the e-world though, there’s no denying its benefits, and it certainly has a lot to offer older people - whether they want to see pictures of their grandchildren, keep in touch with their family, download knitting patterns or identify wild birds, it’s all possible on the world wide web.
It’s not just older people who can benefit from being online, though. In a break from the norm, we’re including a blog this week from Corinna Gray, our digital communications officer, who found herself stuck in hospital following an accident, and, in an effort to help dispel the boredom, sent us the following from her hospital bed.
“I recently spent an unplanned week in hospital after an accident. During that time, my smart phone became my best friend. It allowed me to keep in touch with friends and family as well as keep up to date with the outside world via news feeds and social media. This unlimited access to the world via technology stopped me feeling lonely and isolated during a time when I was otherwise unable to leave my hospital bed.
“I have worked and volunteered with older people for about four years, and so, although my recent experience is in no way permanent and so not entirely comparable, it did make me think about how hard it must be for an older person to be housebound, without access and an understanding of how to use modern technology. The digital world became my oyster in a time of need – so why couldn’t it work for an isolated older person too?
“Obviously, being online doesn’t replace human contact, but it does offer an additional means of communication that might help alleviate some of the loneliness faced by many older people. It could facilitate being able to talk to family and friends who live far away, keep up to date with news, discuss and share opinions with an ever growing online community and even laugh at a few funny cat videos now and again.
“But gaining the confidence to do these things is the first and biggest hurdle; something I have learnt in my post as Digital Communications Officer at Independent Age, so spending some time and money on training older people seems to me like a solid investment. I’m not saying that being online is the only answer to loneliness. I had lots of cheerful visits from friends and colleagues during my hospital stay too. However, ensuring older people have the knowledge and skills to go digital means that those who might not be so lucky to have friends and family nearby, have the ability to stay in contact with and continue contributing to the society we all live in.”