A new report by Shirley Ayres for Nominet Trust outlines the issues we’re facing in an ageing society and explores the potential of online digital communications technology to address these issues. As well as Shirley’s invaluable insights, this report provides a comprehensive review of the evidence and research in this area and cites innovative projects already under way.
It focuses on well-being, independence and prevention through access, connection and inclusivity. She makes the vital point early on that digital technology cannot replace human contact, kindness, empathy and understanding but it does allow people to connect in different ways, quickly and easily.
Feeling connected and having supportive social relationships has a strong link to health and longevity. Isolation, loneliness, physical and mental health challenges are important social challenges facing society as a whole. And for older people in particular, isolation is a major factor impacting on their well-being and life expectancy.
Social media has made an impact on the way many of us communicate, collaborate and share knowledge and information – whether that is with friends and family, colleagues or complete strangers. Online engagement is a powerful way to draw connections between people that may have never met, but who share many of the same life experiences and interests.
Challenges for social care
‘Older people’ are not a homogenous group, they’re as varied in their needs and interests as individuals in any other sector of the population.
Technology provides many different ways of connecting people and resources. This should enable the design and delivery of appropriate care services that help to celebrate and value the life experience and wisdom offered by the older people they are supporting.
Shirley also addresses issues of digital inclusion. Government plans to deliver more services ‘digital by default’ have created challenges for social care including disparity of Internet access and digital literacy.
The use of technology for enabling social contact and participation can be very successful, but many older people need a little help to start using digital technology – plus ongoing support
The report calls for a more holistic approach to ageing, taking into account not only the complex needs of older individuals but also those of individuals with care responsibilities. It champions better integration of service provision and collaboration between the digital tech industry, academics, care providers and people who use care services.
Care and support in a digital society needs to have a different focus which challenges the perceptions of older people as being a ‘burden’ and promotes the benefits of technology to enable people to live more independent, safe and fulfilling lives.
She concludes with a number of recommendations, including:
- Developing from the ground up an independent Community Wellbeing and Social Technology Hub which takes advantage of the technology which it reports on and supports all stakeholders to to share resources in discoverable ways
- Carers and care seekers need to access information and support online more easily
- A more joined-up approach to digital inclusion and a more open way of working to avoid expensive and unnecessary duplication of pilots
- Digital tech innovation showcase events
The full report can be found here.