Last night the Health Secretary Matt Hancock launched the report, Harnessing Technology to tackle Loneliness, which shows the profound mental, physical and economic cost of loneliness on society.
Contact the Elderly, the national charity dedicated to tackling loneliness and isolation among older people in the UK, welcomes the report, by Vodafone, which highlights the benefits of technology and ‘social prescribing’ by GPs to help older people reconnect with society. The charity has been providing regular social gatherings for older people who live alone for more than 50 years and urges GPs to refer their patients.
Meryl Davies, Chief Executive of Contact the Elderly, said: “We have consistently highlighted the negative impact of loneliness on older people and research has proven time and time again that it can increase the risk of health problems such as high blood pressure, dementia and strokes. Older people living alone are 50 per cent more likely to visit A&E than those who live with others and a fifth of older people living alone visit their GP at least once a month, according to The Health Foundation.
“Loneliness is the reality for many of the more than two million people aged 75 and over who live alone in the UK and as our population ages, the problem will only get worse. Social prescribing should be a simple and effective way to tackle this and technology has the potential to help keep older people engaged with their communities – providing opportunities to interact with family and friends who may live far away or likeminded people who are feeling lonely and want to connect with others, as well as access to local information, events and support available.
“It’s important that technology is embraced alongside regular face to face contact with other people, which remains vital. For many of the 6,200 older people we support each year, our volunteers are the only person they see all month. Yet 95 per cent of the older guests who attend our social gatherings say they now have something to look forward to.”
Meryl added: “Contact the Elderly is exploring the potential of technology to enhance the work that we do, both through improving the technology we currently use to implement our service and the opportunities to use technology to keep our social groups together as the older people become increasingly housebound or in developing new opportunities in remote areas. We will be partnering with technology providers to work in sustainable ways and ensure that technological solutions are truly fit for purpose for our cohort of very much older people.
“Now the government and NHS acknowledge the benefit of social prescribing they need to commit to developing and maintaining a database so that new link workers have easy access to information about the social activities available for them to prescribe to lonely and isolated patients. We urge decision makers to make the most of this opportunity and help tackle loneliness at the root.”