How the internet and digital technology can combat isolation

There is no need for family carers to feel alone!

Posted on 24/11/2012 by |

In a week that Jeremy Hunt announced a new initiative to combat the isolation and loneliness experienced by millions of people it does seem extraordinary that so few local authorities and Health and Wellbeing Boards are  exploring how digital technology can connect people and communities. With an increasing number of web and mobile based applications from simple information to more complex care management tools digital technology has the potential to transform the delivery of care and support in communities. It is fair to comment that access to high speed broadband will be an essential element to realising the full potential of digital technology for providing.

An impressive amount of research has been undertaken and reports produced to explore the challenges, barriers and opportunities of encouraging older people to use the internet and digital technology to live more independent and fulfilling lives.  The internet and digital technology has a very valuable role to play in providing access to services and support to those who have difficulty accessing them in the offline world.

Recent studies have linked internet use to mental health problems and loneliness among young people but recent research from the University of Alabama shows that older people who utilize the internet for social purposes are less likely to suffer from depression

 “Technology is a vital part of human existence. They show us that the right tools, in the right hands, can help everyone, regardless of our frailties, to achieve our true potential and advance as a civilisation.” Professor Stephen Hawking accepting his  AbilityNet ‘Excellence in Accessibility Award’ at the Technology4Good awards September 2012

I would like to introduce you to just a few examples of exciting and cost effective innovations which could be promoted by local authorities. Many more example are included in my forthcoming eBook “The Click Guide to Digital Technology for Care”

DropBy is an interactive website for people over 60 and their families. It is designed to help keep older people ‘in touch’ by providing a secure place for the over 60s to meet both online and in real life. Joining DropBy can provide a life-line for those who live alone, in residential care or who are feeling isolated. Membership is free and privacy is a priority.  Twitter @MaryBDropBy

Casserole Club is a food sharing network, bringing local communities together around home-cooked food. Currently being piloted in Surry there are plans to extend the service across the country. There are a lot of people cooking food who would be happy to cook a bit extra to share with isolated neighbours who would appreciate a home cooked meal. The goal of Casserole is to connect the two using online and offline connections. This is a great way for local communities to tackle social isolation. Twitter @Casserole_Club

Hear Murtz Abidi founder of the Casserole Club talking about the inspiration behind Casserole on the Disruptive Social Care podcast.

The Good Gym makes it easy for people to combine exercise with doing good in their local community. The Good Gym unlocks volunteering potential by channelling the energy that people spend on exercising and turning it into positive social action. It was set up to connect elderly and isolated local residents with a runner on a mission: to get fit, do something useful and to provide social interaction. The Good Gym currently operates in East London.
Twitter @goodgym

Mindings uses technology and social media to enable people to send personal captioned photos. text messages and calendar reminders to a digital display instantly from a mobile phone. This is especially important when families are widely dispersed and want an easy way of keeping in touch and connected whether they are living at home, in residential care, in hospital or in different parts of the world. Twitter @MindingsStu

Update 3rd December 2012. Delighted to hear that  Mindings has recently  won £100,000 of funding to pilot the service within a local integrated health and social care system in the Midlands and East of England.

“I’m thrilled that the potential of Mindings has been recognised. My co-developer Ian Pleasance and I are incredibly excited about working with DACS, Age UK and the East of England local authorities to connect families and help combat loneliness and social isolation!”  Stuart Arnott Mindings Founder

I understand that accessing and learning about the digital world can be a challenge for many individuals. Research shows that learning in the later stages of life can boost confidence, give residents a more positive outlook on life and delay the onset of dementia. While some older people have a good grasp of how to use computers already, many lack confidence in their ability to learn something new.

Gen2Gen is an intergenerational  IT mentoring scheme, which involves young people working on a one to one basis with Abbeyfield residents to help  them access digital technology and social media. UK Youth is providing training for young volunteers.  These young volunteers will then support older people in Abbeyfield to use the internet, continue their hobbies and interests and stay in contact with friends and family. Twitter @ukyv   and @TheAbbeyfield

Alive is using digital technology to help older people in residential care to re-live a wealth of experiences and achievements and reinvigorate past interests. Identifying shared experiences and interests creates a focus for conversation, helping introverted, isolated people to join in and connect with both care home staff and other residents. Twitter @aliveactivities

Chill4usCarers provides a support forum run by volunteer family carers and ex carers. Social media is used very actively to raise awareness and support for carers. The Carers’ forum offers information, news and views and the  online chat room is open 24 hours a day. Chill4usCarers organisesComputers4carers which provides free computers for carers. Twitter @Chill4usCarers

Quite simply what people need are signposts to help them explore what technology products and services are available, both through statutory services or to purchase independently. A critical factor for organisations is ensuring that internal structures and culture are designed to embrace change and foster a willingness to learn new skills and engage with digital technology. The many innovations being supported by funders suggest there is no shortage of ideas for applying digital technology to the challenging problems confronting society including isolation.

We have developed the Care in a Digital Age programme to help public sector bodies explore the potential of the internet and digital technology to join up all of the different innovations which have the potential to transform lives. Do contact me if you would like your local authority or Health and Wellbeing Board to be involved in this exciting initiative.