IT and social isolation – the next generation

August 14th, 2015 | Posted by Paul Goulden in Digital | Isolation

I’m not sure why but in the last few months I’ve had a lot of contact with companies and developers looking at IT solutions to reduce social isolation –  and whilst it’s very welcome that they are tackling this, my overall impression is that they’ve gone down the wrong track…

‘IT and older people’ has always been an odd topic. On the one hand it has the potential to help connect older people with relatives and support services, but on the other there has been mixed success in older people taking up IT. The problem has always been that those who might really benefit from the increased contact are those least likely to be able to use it – if you are housebound with multiple health conditions, even making a cup of tea might be out of reach for you, never mind learning a whole new way of communicating.

The solutions I’ve seen recently seem to rely on bespoke hardware and software, and some of the solutions are excellent – the Visbuzz use interface is photo-driven and would be fantastic for older people, particularly those with dementia. Other developments include set-top boxes linked to the internet, which again would be intuitive for older people to learn. There are also the telecare models being touted around as local authorities look for new solutions to help social care.

But what all these developers seem to be missing is that there is a new generation of older people coming along, and they don’t need IT training because they already know how to buy off Amazon and use Skype. They are more than happy to GoCompare, though probably less chuffed that they can pay council tax and parking fines on-line.

So any hardware or software developments will only have a limited shelf life – if a 65 year old is happy using his iPad now, then chances are when he is 80 (and we have the iPad 8) he’ll still want to use this platform.

So my advice to these developers is leave the hardware to those who are doing it commercially – you can’t compete with them and they have more money to throw at this than you ever will. The direction of travel for reducing social isolation in older people needs to go down the app route – and anyone who gets this right will reap the rewards in 5 to 10 years time.

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