Tackling social isolation by getting older people online

An old person using a mouse
21 may 2010

Independent Age, the charity that provides lifelong support to older people in need, has pledged to get older people online and help them stay there, enabling them to reap the benefits of improved links to the wider community.

The report ‘Older people, technology and community (1)’ the result of a project funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and led by Independent Age and a steering committee drawn from the media, telecoms, academia and the voluntary sector, is published on Silver Surfers’ Day (Friday 21st May). It recognises that more should be done to improve older people’s access to technology by selling them its real benefits – keeping in touch with family and friends, pursuing their own passions and hobbies, getting access to better services and being informed citizens.

Social isolation and the feelings of loneliness it leads to are common problems for older people living in the UK today. Recent research reveals that a fear of being alone is a major source of anxiety as people grow older and that some older people go for days without seeing another person (2). The report highlights however that communications technologies can help prevent and alleviate social isolation and loneliness. Despite this, nearly three in four over 65s have never used the internet.

The report recommends breaking down the barriers and dispelling the myths that can surround IT by providing older people with the initial know-how they need to get online and ongoing support. This can be done through:
• Launching a voluntary sector pledge which commits charities and other voluntary organisations to run events on Silver Surfers’ Day and throughout the year, reaching out to older staff and service users, helping them get online.
• Developing a new scheme, Learn to Help, which will provide older people with one-to-one support in learning about technology and enable networking.

“Too many older people are excluded from the benefits of online society,” says Janet Morrison, Chief Executive of Independent Age. “With the right support, older people will have the opportunity to use online services, offering them the chance to renew and develop social contacts and engage actively in their communities. The real and urgent need is for more appropriate services that reflect older people’s interests and respond to their needs, including sustained, community-based training and support. This should lead to improved face-to-face contact and involvement in the community and a better quality of life.”

“To enable older people technologically,” she adds, “we need to help them appreciate what technology can do for them. Whether they want to see pictures of their grandchildren, keep in touch with their family, download knitting patterns or identify wild birds, we need to tune into their interests, attitudes and expectations and design programmes around those.”

Andrew Barnett, UK Director of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, adds: “At a key time of life where difficult transitions can lead to increased isolation, new technologies can help people feel more connected to loved ones whilst also maintaining vital access to information and services. We have seen time and again through our work to support the reduction of loneliness among older people, how effective ICT projects, designed in collaboration with older people, can be, particularly when there is a common goal which goes beyond IT training. Public, private and voluntary sectors now need to follow the recommendations in this report and rethink how to roll out and strengthen such schemes for the benefit of older people and our communities.”

Download a PDF copy of the report

For media enquiries, or to receive a printed copy of the report, contact Rebecca Law on 020 7605 4291 or [email protected]

(1) Older People, technology and community – the potential of technology to help older people renew or develop social contacts and to actively engage in their communities, commissioned from Independent Age by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, published on 21st May 2010.

(2) Fear of being alone is a major source of anxiety as people grow older:
• WRVS identified that 8% of people it works with see no one each day and that 32 older people a day die alone at home.
• Over 1 million (11%) people aged 65 or over in the UK say they always or often feel lonely (One Voice: shaping our ageing society, Age Concern and Help the Aged 2009)

  • ENDS –

Notes to Editors:
Chief Executive of Independent Age, Janet Morrison, will be presenting the findings of the report at the Social Innovation eXchange (SIX): Innovation and Opportunity in an Ageing Society event in Paris, France on Friday 21st May 2010.

The project was led by Independent Age and funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. Steering group members were:
Emma Solomon – Digital Unite,
Damian Radcliffe – OFCOM
Adam Oliver – BT
Brian Lamb – RNID
Leela Damodaran – Research School of Informatics, Loughborough University
Guy Giles – Looking Local
Alan Taylor – BBC
Ben Brown- UK Online Centres
Kevin Doughty – Centre for Usable Home Technology, University of York
Paul Cann – Age Concern Oxfordshire
Kevin Johnson – Cisco
Jacques Mizan – Young Foundation
Andrew Barnett – Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK Branch)
Luis Jeronimo – Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (Portugal)
Annabel Knight – Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK Branch)

About Silver Surfers’ Day:
Silver Surfers’ Day was developed by Digital Unite and provides resources to support local organisations in the public, private and voluntary sectors offering free IT taster sessions to older people in their communities on one national day across the UK.

About Independent Age:
Independent Age is unique in providing lifelong support to older people in need. We provide the information, advice, friendship and emergency grants they need, through our network of volunteers. Supported by Independent Age, thousands of older people across the United Kingdom and Ireland are able to maintain their independence, contribute to their communities and enjoy a good quality of life.
Visit: www.independentage.org.uk for further information.

About the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation:
The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation is an international charitable foundation with cultural, educational and social interests. Based in Lisbon with branches in London and Paris, the Foundation is in a privileged position to support transnational work tackling contemporary issues facing Europe. The purpose of the UK Branch in London is to connect and enrich the experiences of individuals, families and communities with a special interest in supporting those who are most disadvantaged. In 2008, the Foundation launched an initiative on ageing and social cohesion, with a number of activities developed with colleagues in Lisbon. This report represents the latest development of a wide portfolio of work which we hope will contribute to a growing understanding of the impact of demographic ageing to our society.

As part of their wider programme of work, Ageing & Social Cohesion, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, UK is supporting the following initiatives:
• IntergenerationAll – with colleagues in Lisbon, the Foundation is supporting a range of intergenerational projects undertaking a programme of co-design with project users, with a focus on the use of IT to strengthen each project.
• BOOM TV – through Inclusive Digital and Independent Age, the Foundation is supporting the research and development of a BOOM TV, a new not-for-profit, public service web TV channel for anyone 50+. The channel will deliver relevant programming through online, on-demand video and a range of targeted services via its website which will seek to inform, engage, challenge and inspire.
• Action for Age – this project with the RSA and Experimenta Design, challenges design students in the UK and Portugal to create network and service solutions to reconnect older people, with a particular focus on building sustainable intergenerational relationships.
• UnLtd. Social Entrepreneurs – the Ageing Challenge fellowship programme will award prizes to social entrepreneurs, some of whom will be older people themselves, with not-for-profit business ideas of benefit to older people.

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