January 13, 2017
Loneliness and isolation within the UK’s elderly community has reached epidemic proportions – and is set to increase. The statistics are stark:
- 3.9m of UK’s elderly say that the television is their main company (Age UK, 2014)
- 51% of the elderly live alone (ONS, 2010)
- 1.2m elderly are chronically lonely (Age UK)
- 20% say they have no one to turn to (The Campaign To End Loneliness)
- 11% are in contact with family or friends less than once a month (Victor et al, 2003)
The deleterious effects of loneliness are equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day(Holt-Lunstad), and has significant causation links to depression, dementia (increasing chance by 64% (Holwerda et al, 2012)), and mortality (by 26% (Holt-Lunstad, 2015)).
Independent but isolated
The UK and North American cultures have become known for their very independent families and households. They still of course love and have strong family ties, but generally the kids move out early, and often the kids move far from home. The kids get kids and family of their own and then the elderly is relegated to an orbiting interest.
Other cultures have greater inter-generational involvement. Southern Europe, much of Asia and the developing wold might have as many as three, or four generations living under one roof. The family unit becomes a community where wisdom, family duties, child rearing, welfare and daily life is shared amongst the group. The elderly typically fair better in these cultures as they are more tightly woven into the community fabric.
In many of these cultures, parents have as many children as possible. Children are seen as a means of income, support and security in their retirement. The more children you have, the safer and wealthier you are in your old age. This system can have its downsides of course – four generations under one roof could be intense. But the elderly don’t get left out.
Existing services are not enough
There are many fantastic charities and public services within the community – but the problem of isolation and loneliness amongst the elderly continues to grow. Charitychoice.co.uk lists over 3,000 charities related to the elderly in the UK. Many do a great job, but all are under resourced, and do the best they can with what they have. Yet, finding and affordable and effective solution seems elusive – as the statistics show that many people are slipping through the gaps.
Many charities function off the back of well-meaning volunteers. But accountability, commitment, retention can be low, which can ultimately compromise quality and results. Not all charities are necessarily effective, and many aren’t even efficient with the monies that they have. Like any business, some charities just don’t cut the mustard when it comes to their deliverables, and promised services.
Public services are present and have the best intentions, but they suffer from chronic underfunding. A report released by the UK Home Care Association (Nov 2016) says that the state funded system for assisting elderly people in their homes (which allows them to stay in their homes longer), is facing a dramatic funding crisis. It argues that there’s a rapidly growing funding gap, which has now reached £513m.
More elderly, and living much longer
The problem we all face is only growing – loneliness isn’t going away. More and more people are getting old, and they’re living longer. It’s projected that the number of people over 80 years will double by 2037, and those over 90 shall triple. (ONS 2015).
And society is changing as well. There are more people are living in single and smaller households, and children and families are living further away these days. Technology is on the rise everywhere, which can have the paradoxical effect of increasing isolation.
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The use of technology is becoming more and more pervasive. Social media can help connect people, but it can also just as easily disconnect and isolate people. Those that aren’t keeping up with the fast pace of change are finding themselves out of the loop. And it’s not just social media. As messaging moves online, the postal services are reduced to bare bones. As shopping moves online, high Streets and standard shopping services decline.
Young people’s lives – the children of the elderly – are getting fuller and fuller. There are more and more pressures to pay the mortgage, educate the children, stay longer at the office, and then try and dedicate time to their own children on the few free hours they do have.
Modern Solution required
Technology is a double-edged sword. Technology can keep is isolated in our homes, but it’s also an incredible boon for society. It’s technology that’s enables us to live longer and longer. And its technology that allows us to communicate and connect better, cheaper and more readily.
There are innumerable stories of the wonderment of the first telephones, the first television, and of course the moving images of Neil Armstrong taking the first steps on the moon. The introduction of telephones had a huge impact on society. It was still prohibitively expensive when introduced in the 1870’s, but gradually became affordable and available to all classes. Even 100 years later, in the 1970’s, overseas calls were prohibitively expensive for most.
Then mobile phones came along. Then Skype and video calling came, and social media, iPads, messaging apps, and a whole world of tools enabling easy communication. Technology meant that communicating with anyone in the world became so accessible and so easy. And many, if not all of them are completely free!!
The opportunity to communicate with anyone, at anytime, anywhere in the world is easier than ever. You can use text, voice, video, and soon 3D holograms. With such easy and affordable access to incredible communication tools, it seems so sad that there are so many with no one to communicate with. So many long-suffers of isolation and loneliness.
Keeping Good Company leverages this incredible technology we have, taking best advatage of the opportunity to make a difference. The UK has a crisis of care, it’s elderly are isolated and lonely, to which Keeping Good Company has a solution.
Keeping Good Company uses technology as an enabler – but we are proudly a low-tech solution to a basic human need.