1.5 million people in the UK aged 50 and above suffer from ‘chronic loneliness’, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), but a new report by Vodafone UK identifies how technology can help tackle this, and keep people independent for longer.
Vodafone has developed a Fitbit-style wristband called V-SOS that alerts family members if the wearer needs help, and the NHS is already working with technology companies to offer smart sensors that rack elderly people’s habits, and then warns other family members if their normal behaviour patterns change.
Meanwhile GPs are being advised to prescribe app-based technology, tracking devices and activities to help alleviate loneliness and earlier this year, a pet robot ‘for the elderly to cuddle’ was one of the biggest hits at CES, the world’s largest technology fair in Las Vegas.
But are we headed for some kind of dissociated future, where human interaction is replace by robots, Hollywood dystopian-future style? Or is this just a clever way to deal with what is undeniably an increasing problem? We asked two people for their opinion…
DAVE – I HATE THESE IDEAS!
Dave is 72 and lives in Northampton. He’s a father and grandfather but is a widower – his wife died eight years ago – and although he’s alone a lot, he doesn’t feel that technology or apps are the way to fix anything.
He has friends he sees, and likes a pint at the local with his cronies. His family don’t live close but he keeps in touch and sees them when he can – he does email and use Whatsapp but isn’t keen on replacing any other interactions with technology.
“It’s the Devil’s work, isn’t it,” he grins. “In all seriousness though, what the hell is this robot thing about? If you want a pet, you could have a real one, couldn’t you? A cat?
I truly believe that once you remove the need for real human interaction you’ll just give up
“I think once you start replacing things like pets with robots, people won’t be far behind. And I truly believe that once you remove the need for real human interaction you’ll just give up. Give up going out and talking to people, give up making friends or doing social things. You’ll end up even more lonely.
“I try and go bowling every week and get out and about. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t lonely sometimes, but I make the effort to try and see people. Even just popping to the shop – it’s not easy to get around so much now but I try – and I get to have a little chat with people and that breaks up the day. Imagine never leaving your house and just playing with electronic toys.”
He admits though that the use of alert-style apps is a good idea. “Yes, I can see how that would work for people who are really old and a bit wobbly on their pins. I mean, if you fall down and can’t get up, how are you going to call for help? You could lie there until you die!”
But he’s less keen on apps or technology for mental stimulation. “I like a bit of tele – I like Midsomer Murders and a few old cop shows, yeah. But if I want to play a game I play Patience or get out a crossword. I use the phone a lot and I suppose you’d call that technology, but I like to ring my son and his kids, and have a natter. They keep trying to get me to do Skype but I feel stupid doing it. Maybe I’ll get used to it. I worry that if they can see me on a computer though they might not come and see me in the flesh!”
DIANE – YES! GREAT IDEAS!
Diane is 70 and lives in rural Dorset. She says that if it weren’t for technology she’d be really lonely, and thinks that the new wearable Fitbit style technology is a great idea.
“I live in the sticks, as you can see, and if it weren’t for Skype and FaceTime there would be weeks where I wouldn’t see a face at all,” she says. “I know I chose to live here, and I love the countryside, but it’s harder to go out so much and I like to see friendly faces.”
I live in the sticks and if it weren’t for Skype and FaceTime there would be weeks where I wouldn’t see a face at all
Diane does drive but doesn’t feel confident on the roads as much these days. “They whizz by!” she exclaims, “they terrify me.” But she has embraced technology and says it’s all for the better.
“I’ve got an Alexa which makes me laugh sometimes,” she says. “I have to shout a bit to be understood, she often gets me wrong. But I like the fact I can say stuff out loud like that, it’s a bit sci-fi, isn’t it. A bit Star Trek!
“I also have an iPad so I can do my emails and stay in touch, and I play games on it like Candy Crush, and I like doing Facebook too, seeing what everyone is up to and having a chat online. My daughter got it for me and showed me how to use it – but it’s really easy, I think anyone could pick it up.”
Like Dave she thinks the medical applications could be useful, “particularly for people like me stuck out in the middle of nowhere. That’s a super idea,” and she also likes the idea of a pet robot.
“I am lucky here, I’ve got three cats, all rescues, and a dog and I have them to keep me company. The dog also keeps me a bit fit as I have to take her out sometimes, but if I was stuck in a tower block or something, a robot pet would be lovely I think.”
If you’re affected by loneliness you can talk to The Samaritans