We’ve probably all seen a newspaper headline arguing that technology is a cause of loneliness (“Loneliness in Britain is the legacy of social media and our high tech lives”) or an easy cure (“Give pensioners iPads to stop them feeling lonely, ministers indicate”). But life, and technology, is never that simple and we know from both research and practice that we need a more nuanced debate around this topic.

On 22 July, the Campaign to End Loneliness hosted a workshop to discuss the role technology and telecare could play in keeping us connected, and preventing loneliness in older age. This blog captures some of the ideas and challenges presented at the event, and we’d love to hear about your experiences as well.

What does the research say?

Previous research has demonstrated that technology can both help reduce loneliness and to contribute to it, depending on how it is used. A 2014 review of loneliness interventions found that 3 out the 4 most successful activities involved a new technology but small numbers of research participants meant they couldn’t conclude if they’d be successful on a larger scale.

At our workshop, we heard from two experts in this field. Professor Arlene Astell from Sheffield University, talked about their work to improve take-up of technology and assistive technology. Professor Sue Yeandle, from the University of Leeds, then presented on her research into how telecare can be developed to help older people live a full and independent life.

What did our attendees think?

We also asked our attendees to debate a series of questions:

  • what challenges did they face?
  • what did they feel worked well?
  • how they saw technology could become more a fix, than a bug, for people of any ages experiencing loneliness?

The list of answers, as I’m sure you can imagine, was rather long. We’ve pulled them all together into a handy workshop report.

If you only remember 5 things…

Our workshop attendees came up with a wealth of useful tips, ideas and thoughts over the course of our workshop. A number of themes came out of these, so if you’d like to use technology to tackle loneliness, we recommend that you:

  1. Treat technology as a useful tool that should be used alongside a range of other things to combat loneliness: non-virtual relationships are still vital
  2. Remember that older people want from technology is what we all want: our interests and needs do not just change overnight when we turn 65
  3. Recognise that people aged over 65 are just as interested as you are, but some confidence building might be needed at first
  4. Try to focus on the benefits of a technology if introducing it for the first time: don’t describe the service, describe the outcome that it will bring
  5. We need more funding to make kit and training cheaper (and therefore less of a barrier) but we can start to talk and do more to raise the value of technology at the same time