Researchers are exploring whether technology could be the key to tackling the UK’s “loneliness epidemic” by better connecting older adults with their communities.
They noted that, ironically, isolation and loneliness had spread rapidly as communication has become easier, particularly among older adults.
“Older adults are a largely untapped source of smart, sociable people”
According to the charity Age UK, 3.9 million older adults see the TV as their best form of company – an issue that carries serious consequences, highlighted the researchers from Lancaster University. For example, they said loneliness was said to increase the risk of death by 26%.
As a result, they set out to explore how a “non-digitalised generation” could engage with technology to help improve the quality of their lives.
The researchers are working on a £2.56m project involving more than 100 older adults across Europe to co-create apps and digital services to deal with complex social issues such as isolation, exclusion and access to services.
The UK arm of the Mobile Age project is focused on the South Lakeland area and centres around reducing social isolation and loneliness.
As part of the project, a new app is being co-created with a group of 10 local older adults and will be rolled out for piloting in the new year.
The app shows local social opportunities available based on chosen preferences, as well as providing real-time information on factors that often discourage older adults from venturing out – such as weather and levels of daylight.
The app will also provide clear information on what the route is like, including its terrain, whether it’s walkable, transport services available and toilet facilities along the way.
Professor Niall Hayes, who is leading the UK wing of the research, said: “Older adults are a largely untapped source of smart, sociable people but they are at risk of being excluded from the digital age as they often cannot access the information that others have at their fingertips.
“Rather than isolating them from the digital world, our research looks at co-creating something that works for them – opening up a brand new world of information that should create more social opportunities and a greater feeling of community,” he said.
New app being developed to help reduce loneliness in elderly
Professor Hayes said the new app was designed to be “intuitive and easy to use” but that the researchers now needed to test it with different community groups.
He said: “We want to capture the views of as many people as possible before passing on our policy recommendations – which will include the recommendation that large screens are displayed within existing community groups so all attendees get into a routine of accessing information and planning their next participation.
“We are working with local charities, support services and the local council and anticipate that lessons learned in this project will help shape local digital services in the future,” he added.
Over the next 12 months, the researchers will continue to work with local participants, focusing on the role of carers and volunteers in supporting older people to use the app and access events.