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IoTUK highlights digital in tackling social isolation



Report points to role of tech in reducing mental health problems and relieving pressures on NHS

Digital technology could help to reduce the strain on the NHS by supporting people suffering from social isolation and loneliness, according to a new report released under the Internet of Things UK (IoTUK) programme.

Titled Social isolation and loneliness in the UK and published with the Future Cities Catapult - which is behind IoTUK with the Digital Catapult - it points to approaches such as video conferencing, computer training and the provision of internet access as having generally positive effects on people in danger of being shut off from society.

The report says that digital solutions have been shown to reduce the burden of cost on social care significantly, with an hour of digital social inclusion service being delivered at 60% of the cost of traditional face-to-face emotional support services.

It highlights the potential of new solutions, including the Family in Touch prototype, which has been developed in Canada to improve social interactions for older people. This enables them to send pre-set email messages to designated family members by touching a picture frame with a touch screen display surrounded by LEDs. The family member could then respond with a video message transmitted into the picture frame.

A project named CogniWin encourages older people to develop new cognitive skills through a virtual adaptive support and learning assistant. This can help to keep them active and even in employment longer into their lives.

In addition, internet training can help with sporting activities like walking football that have been effective in encouraging older men and women to take up sport again without worrying about previous physical injuries.

Negative angle

The report acknowledges that there have been concerns around the possible negative effects of technology, including social media, but says it can alert people to new opportunities to socialise and open additional methods of communication.

There are implications for public services in evidence that people are 60% more likely to visit emergency departments if they live on their own than with a spouse. The problem is also affecting people’s mental health conditions, with a clear corroboration between loneliness and issues such as depression.

Hannah Griffiths, market analyst at Future Cities Catapult, said: “Research has shown that, in terms of negative health outcomes, lacking social connections is comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. This report shines a light on the growing problem that social isolation and loneliness presents to our society.

“Technology can offer a cost-effective way of providing wider services and support and, by highlighting innovative solutions, we hope this kick starts a policy drive to provide tangible answers to the problems that these debilitating conditions pose.”

Image by Yasser Alghofily, CC BY 2.0 through flickr

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