Gearing up against loneliness

By David Gledhill, Marketing and Communications Lead

Technology is the latest weapon in the long-running battle against loneliness and isolation in young and old alike

Here at Ageing Well Torbay, we know only too well the misery and sadness that isolation can bring to the over 50’s in particular, and we are constantly looking for new ways to tackle it.

Over the last four years in this six-year-long programme, Ageing Well Torbay has helped thousands of people get out and about, meet new people and become healthier as a result.

It was recognised early on that some people were visiting their doctors too often complaining of relatively minor conditions when in reality they were depressed and simply wanted someone to talk to.

In the first two years of Ageing Well, of the 6000 people that were helped by the project, their visits to their local surgeries fell by more than 45%.

Across the UK 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 in the region of £1.8 billion annually.

Given that just short of 50% of the population in Torbay is over 50 that adds up to tens of thousands of people who are suffering from chronic loneliness in Brixham, Paignton and Torbay

By the same token, that means that the cost to local health and caring services runs into millions of pounds every year.

And those lonely people are closer to you than you think.It might be a neighbour or someone you regularly see in the street or at the local shops. It might be that person that appears to be always walking, but going nowhere or the man or woman on the bus that doesn’t ever seem to get off.

A recent report commissioned by the mobile phone giant, Vodafone outlines how technology could be harnessed to drive a reduction in loneliness and support older people to remain independent in their home.

In part, because of the work Ageing Well Torbay and programmes like it around the country, a great deal has been learned about the subject which is being fed back to the Government to incorporate in national strategies.

Doctors are now indirectly prescribing dancing and cookery classes, and referring their patients to wellbeing coordinators who visit them in their own homes to talk through their needs.

Once their needs have been identified and it could be their love of dancing, singing or model railways or gardening or just the opportunity to socialise, then they are pointed in the right direction and helped reintegrate in a way that they love best.

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, as were introduced in Torbay several years ago.

Healthwatch Torbay were commissioned relatively early on to help older people to get to grips with online prescriptions and internet bookings systems and are now hosting computer drop ins.Six months ago computer technology classes were introduced by Ageing Well with Positive People.

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.”

We have learned a lot already at Ageing Well, but there is still much to discover and whilst a great many people have already been helped, we are aware that there are many more – what are know in caring circles as the ‘hard to reach’.

They are hidden in every community across the bay, and we all have our part to play in finding them, Some don’t want to be found, but most do, and that is where being a good neighbour comes in.

Check on your neighbours, a friendly wave or a knock at the door costs nothing, but in so doing you could be helping someone on a journey back to happiness.

In the words of Loneliness Minister, Mimms Davies: “Loneliness is one of the most pressing public health challenges we face.”

Technology can help, but so can all of us. Join the fightback today; it may be you one day.

If you are worried about someone or need more information, then you can contact Ageing Well on 01803 212638 or email