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Boost access to internet to combat OAP loneliness

The government should tackle loneliness amongst the over-65s by training those without the skills to use the internet, a think-tank has recommended.

Spending £875m on educating the 6.2 million people who do not have basic digital skills − the equivalent of £141 per person − would yield “huge” economic and social benefits for the UK, the Policy Exchange said.

“Being able to simply write an email or access a social networking site could provide older people with a way to stay connected”

Eddie Copeland

Around four out of 10 people aged 65 or over do not have access to the internet at home with more than five million never having used the internet, according to a report by the right of centre think-tank.

The number of people aged 85 or over is set to double over the next 20 years, with older people facing a “major challenge” from the risk of isolation, as families move further apart for work, it said.

One in 10 people are estimated to visit their GP because they are lonely, with research suggesting that lonely adults are more likely to undergo emergency hospitalisation and early admission into residential or nursing care, it said.

Tackling isolation could prove to be one of the most effective strategies for countering the rising costs of caring for an ageing population, the think-tank said.

The initial investment in training would be offset by savings of around £1.7bn a year as people moved to digital rather than paper-based and telephone transactions, it added.

Report author Eddie Copeland, the think-tank’s head of technology policy, said: “In an increasingly isolated and fast moving world it is vital that everyone in society is able to use the internet and understand its benefits.

Policy Exchange

Eddie Copeland

“From alleviating social isolation, bringing together communities, paying bills and now accessing public services, online can improve lives.

“Being able to simply write an email or access a social networking site could provide older people with a way to stay connected to their friends and families, who may live hundreds of miles away.

“Maintaining these important relationships will help an ageing society vulnerable to loneliness and disconnection from a fast-moving modern world.”

Andrew Kaye, head of policy at Independent Age, a charity which offers advice and support to older people and their families, said: “Encouraging and enabling people to go online could be one really useful means of tackling loneliness - but it’s not the only way.

“We musn’t forget that it’s really important older people still have a choice about how they access public services so they are not only available online,” he said.

“To those without technology skills a trip to the local post office or real human contact is just as important.

“We are members of the Keep Me Posted campaign, which wants people to have a choice in how they receive bills and written communication,” he added.

Readers' comments (8)

  • Having worked in the community with elderly patients with varying degrees of connectivity I can't help but see some problems with this. I had one patient who was very excited to benefit from an IT scheme in her residential home and learn to use email - but realising that she had no one to send emails to made her feel more isolated.
    Outside of residential homes, if an elderly person does not own a computer, who is going to provide one? Many would not be able to afford one, or know what kind to get. A lot of my patients were in small flats with no space for adding an entire computer desk, but a laptop would be unsafe for those at risk of falls. And for those facing problems with arthritus and sight, even if they had a computer and knew how to use it it would be hard every time. Not to mention people with dementia.
    And people not used to the idea of the internet would not see it as a replacement for human company.
    We are used to solving everything with the internet now, but I think that only in a minority of cases it would work for this.

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  • Anonymous | 27-May-2014 3:24 pm

    the internet is certainly no substitute for human company and most certainly must not be considered as such. it is a tool for keeping in touch and can add an extra interest to some peoples' lives.

    There are alternatives to computers and laptops such as tablets which are popular with some as they can also be used for Skypeing relatives, e-mail, writing letters or memoirs, taking, arranging and sharing photos, watching videos, listing to audio books and music and reading e-books.

    However, I agree with you that place for a computer may be limited and the equipment and connections are also costly.

    If people want somebody to correspond with Silver Linings is a good resource where the elderly can have a buddy and e-mail them or chat on the phone on a regular basis.

    http://www.thesilverline.org.uk/what-we-do/

    they also run a 24/7 chat line which I have used a few times day and night just for a chat or asked where to get advice and they have been very friendly and helpful and give you all the time you want.

    Age UK may also provide a similar service and there is sometimes a list of other organisations on local library notice boards.

    For those in more desperate need, or just feeling lonely, Samaritans also have a telephone chat line and will respond to e-mails within 24h.


    jo@samaritans.org

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  • Oh well I see Esther Rantzen has got on the bandwagon so I'm sure she'll sort it!

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  • Anonymous | 28-May-2014 8:45 am

    a callous comment. loneliness in old age is a very real, serious and often horribly painful problem for many just in the same way as the young have all of their heartaches in relationship problems.

    Cummings is right in pushing the needs of the six 6s among nurses!

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  • Get the elderly blogging. there of people of of all ages and up to 80+ and many are very savvy and it can be very mentally stimulating. the only problem is that people respond on some sites using Disqus in real time and one can find oneself in discussion for hours without even noticing the time passing. it can be a good thing but can also distract one from other issues which need dealing with. the elderly also have to be very well aware of internet safety and all of the usual pitfalls of disclosing personal information and befriending people on the internet.

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  • Older people aren't aliens - they were young people once - I'm in my fifties and use IT all the time - in twenty years time I won't need someone to show me how to email will I - or worry about how I'm going to buy the hardware. This is a group of people who because of their place in time have missed an opportunity to get to grips with a medium of communication that could be useful to them as they age - they need some special consideration. Loneliness is dreadful at any age and we should as a socieity attend to it when we become aware - surely that's a given?

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  • Anonymous | 3-Jun-2014 11:32 am

    it is human contact and warmth and intellectual exchanges which counteract loneliness not inanimate machines, even though they can be used as a means of communication! to boast otherwise is sheer arrogance!


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  • Anonymous | 3-Jun-2014 1:08 pm

    ...and 70s and 90s plus is not 50s! my uncle is over 95 surely you don't think he should have to learn and use a computer!

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