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Just how isolated are our elderly relatives?

Coronavirus has emphasised the isolation of the elderly, who are especially vulnerable to the disease; 89% of elderly say their social contact has reduced significantly. Shielding and lockdown measures have left them increasingly lonely and anxious.

Even before Coronavirus hit us, the topic of isolation among the elderly occasionally featured in news and articles, because half of all people in the UK aged over 75 live alone. If family lives nearby and are supportive, this is not necessarily a problem. However, one accepted truth is that families are increasingly dispersed across the UK and overseas. This leaves the solo elderly more reliant on friends, neighbours and the care system.

Surprisingly, there are very few pieces of published research covering how far away families live from their elderly loved ones. The most recent we could find dates from 2014! So, we set out to do some simple research of our own – please do take part if you haven’t already, it’s ultra-short and totally anonymous. We’ll be sharing the results in the Autumn.

Why does geographical distance (or a dispersed family) matter?

When close family members live too far away to provide regular support, pop in or respond to an emergency it leaves our loved ones reliant on technology to keep in touch with family. It also leaves them reliant on local friends, neighbours and carers for day to day support. As someone who regularly has to ask her student daughters to fix a tech problem, I know that as we age, we can lose touch with how tech works, and for the oldest among us, the effort required to understand it and interact with it can be too much!

Physical distance can also leave family members who may be juggling jobs and family commitments of their own, feeling guilty and unsupportive of their elderly folk. It can be hard to find the time to pick up the phone or organise a zoom call for when there is someone nearby to help out. There are always exceptions of course, tech-savvy grandpas who set up a WhatsApp group, or silver surfer nanas who are your biggest Facebook fans. The difficulty comes when the elderly person is physically frail, perhaps finds language or speech difficult (stroke survivor) or memory impaired. In these situations, they need more contact than ever, and they technology around them needs to be ultra-simple.

This very situation is what prompted our founder Mike to come up with FamilyNewsNow, a simple tailored newsfeed, rotating automatically on a dedicated tablet display. It helped his dispersed family in Scotland, Surrey and the Midlands to overcome geographical distance and reach out to their elderly loved one. It doesn’t pretend to solve the problems of isolation, but it helps more family members to play a part in easing it.

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