Can technology be a help in reducing loneliness?

Those who are older, disabled, new mothers and those who work from home often experience something in common–a feeling of isolation, of being in a vacuum. This Guardian article discusses how online networks targeting special interests can relieve that feeling: Mumsnet for new mothers, Scope for the disabled. For older people, Mindings (UK) can connect them to their own private network with text messaging, reminders, calendaring and photo sharing; it has been piloted by NHS Midlands and East as well as Suffolk County Council for dementia sufferers.

This Editor tried the artificial intelligence software powered chatbot Mitsuku recommended in the article, and found it monumentally silly after a minute of ‘dialogue’, kind of like a person you’ve met at a cocktail party with whom you find some common ground, only to find out that you’ve met a parrot, and not the Monty Python Dead Parrot.

One-on-one relationships that don’t need apps is in a related Guardian article where their writers take up Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s invitation for people to invite their elderly friends and neighbors into their homes for a chat and a cup of tea. Five interesting and feisty experiences on both sides, with the acknowledgement that the older person sometimes is dealing with loneliness but written quite differently than would be in the US (where the writers would strain for a touch of pathos). Meet the pensioners next door: ‘I don’t let them know I am lonely’

Learning about technology can also connect older people in isolated and disadvantaged areas. The Age Connects Torfaen (Wales) ‘digital club’ has three times per week sessions, ‘Silver Surfer’ festivals and reaches out to older people where they visit most. Using laptop computers and tablets, older people learn how to email family, share photos and use the internet for research and shopping. What is also apparent is that by forming groups, there’s plenty of human socialization as well as virtual. Hat tip to Malcolm Fisk via LinkedIn

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  1. The answer is YES. but it’s note necessarily talking to the computer but like to last paragraph suggests learning about the technology will help connect older people. I can relate to this particularly from the experiences we have had in Australia and the UK implementing our software solution MyHomeReach. Firstly technology is not for everyone, however if the introduction to technology is managed well, it will be more readily accepted. The focus of our solution was initially connectivity to care community, family, friends, carers etc. Using a VOIP service helped with affordability cutting down on international phone costs. However it was the addition of our services Tab that made the introduction much easier. We used this function to set up favourites, i.e. online shopping, local transport services. We identified key interests and set these up i.e. recipes, news channels. One retired Nun was delighted to have access to an online Bible. interesting requests were Maps, and facebook to keep up with the grandchildren.
    It was these little hooks that brought the WOW factor and engaged people with the technology. When they get engaged all the other features can then be thought like the calendar, the well being manager and notebook.

    It’s often the approach taken that will determine the success or otherwise when introducing the technology. I’ll leave you with a quote from a client “it expanded my world”

  2. Technology can definitely assist in reducing digital (and hence social) isolation. However, the technology has to be developed from the user up. Most tech I see is developed as “a good idea” and then the task starts to fit the elderly user to the tech! This doesn’t work and, although there are some successes, most applications developed for the elderly will ultimately fail.

    We started the other way around and by identifying people who can’t, don’t and won’t use computers, we asked what they wanted. From this… a single task, single function piece of tech to connect them with loved ones and health support teams was produced and implemented. This has worked well and is still single function and one touch.

    Some users have graduated to more complex applications but the majority, who have no wish to learn new skills, are now more included, less lonely and less vulnerable than before. Oh yes – by the way – the costs of looking after these worthy citizens has reduced whilst their inclusion has improved.

    Tech is not a panacea but should be a part of an integrated package that provides the support our elderly population deserves.