GPs and health service practitioners should be able to prescribe technology such as wearable devices and monitoring systems to tackle loneliness among older people, a report has recommended.
It is estimated that around 1.5 million aged 50 and over suffer from chronic loneliness – not only impacting a person’s health and well-being, but also costing the UK economy an estimated £1.8 billion annually.
The report, commissioned by Vodafone, outlines how technology could be harnessed to drive a reduction in loneliness and support older people to remain independent in their home.
A strategy to address the issue, including doctors prescribing dancing and cookery classes, was launched in October last year, but the Government is now being urged to include technology-focused solutions such as wearable devices, monitoring systems or classes providing lessons on how to use technology.
The research also suggests that the Government should launch a consultation on supporting independent living, given the potential benefits that smart devices can offer.
“Loneliness doesn’t just have an economic cost – it has a profound human cost too, and can be hugely damaging to our health and happiness,” said Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
“It affects people of all ages and backgrounds and is something any of us or our loved ones could experience during our lifetimes. So it is important we do everything we can to reduce loneliness and isolation and provide help to those who need it.
“As people, we all need to feel part of something. This basic instinct of belonging and community is central to happiness – and is at the heart of our work across the health and care system.
“We launched our first ever loneliness strategy last year, and through our Ageing Society Grand Challenge we want to harness innovation to tackle loneliness and support healthy ageing. New technologies and services that can help people stay connected and independent will play an important role in this.”
Older people suffering from loneliness are nearly three times more likely to suffer depression than similar-aged individuals who are not lonely, previous studies have suggested. They are also 1.9 times more likely to develop dementia in the following 15 years.
“Loneliness is one of the most pressing public health challenges we face and technology has a huge role to play in bringing people together,” said Loneliness Minister Mims Davies.
“Businesses, charities and government are working together to reduce loneliness and build more connected communities. Vodafone’s work highlights how digital tech can be a part of the solution.”
Vodafone recently announced a series of free master classes across the UK to help improve knowledge and support with a range of technology.