Loneliness, older adults and technology

During #LonelinessWeek, Wales Centre for Public Policy will issue a series of publications covering different aspects of research around this important topic.

Loneliness is a ‘feeling experienced when there is a gap between desired and actual social contact’ (Age Cymru 2021)

Loneliness is distinct from social isolation, which refers to a lack in the quantity rather than the quality of social contacts – but social isolation does increase the risk of loneliness.

The first publication, a WCPP report, Older adults and the pandemic: tackling loneliness through technology, highlights lessons learned from the diverse uses of technology by care and support providers to tackle loneliness among older people during the pandemic.

The report will be presented by its lead author Professor Julie Barnett at this week’s Social Care Research Roadshow at City Hall, Cardiff. It is accompanied by a BLOG from Welsh Government officials who situate the work within the context of Connected Communities, the first Welsh Government loneliness strategy published in 2020.

Key findings from the research which involved interviews with older people and health and social care service providers, include:

  • A sizeable difference in the digital abilities of older adults, demonstrating the need to routinely assess technological readiness and provide training;
  • The use of technology is particularly challenging for some groups such as users with dementia or hearing loss, while it can prove a lifeline for others such as unpaid carers;
  • The extent to which older adults are wary of the threat of scams which can affect motivation and desire to become more digitally competent;
  • The use of smartphones as a ‘gateway’ to further digital use and;
  • The workforce challenges involved in upskilling staff and volunteers should not be underestimated

Given the health and wellbeing aspects of loneliness, the report shows there is clearly a need to increase the digital capacity of older adults despite, and in fact because the immediate threat of Covid 19 has decreased.

This report was commissioned by the Welsh Government as part of its first loneliness strategy – Connected Communities and following the onset of the pandemic. HERE, Welsh Government officials Emma Spear and Penny Hall explain the value placed on this evidence by policy makers and how the project will help shape future policy planning in this area.

They said, “The outputs of the research have been interesting to read. It was not surprising to see that older people prefer using the telephone over other devices, but we were not expecting there to be so much apprehension from family members about the security of devices and the potential harm from internet scams. It is certainly something that we will need to think about carefully when considering projects and services that make use of digital technology.

“We will be feeding the outputs of this research into our Community of Practice for Community Based Care.. and with our loneliness and isolation strategy advisory group to make sure we continue to tackle loneliness together and to focus on how we can make a difference. This research will therefore feed into future policymaking on issues affecting older people in Wales.”