Around one million older people in the UK are often or always lonely, which greatly affects their quality of life. Loneliness is a similar health risk to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Helping older people to use the internet is one way we can combat loneliness. But for many older people, the barriers to digital technology remain high. Concerns around skills, financial security and the cost of equipment are often given as reasons they do not engage with the internet and new technology.
Online at Home
In 2013, Age UK launched Online at Home, a programme run with 12 local Age UK partners. Over two years, it reached 627 older people, helping them use the internet. It provided them with a second hand desktop, laptop or tablet that they could choose to buy at the end of the project if they wanted. They were given a dongle with their computer and were offered support in how to use the machines for six months.
Beneficiaries found the programme empowering and that it helped to alleviate boredom. As a result of learning to use Skype, Facebook and email, many felt that they were better equipped to contact their families.
Some older people found they had greater control over their health and that they were better equipped to contact their GP. With their new found skills, older people were able to shop online and reconnect with their hobbies, which ranged from researching local history to re-discovering their favourite music.
How we helped Mr Jones
Mr Jones is in his early 60s and lives alone. He recently suffered a stroke which forced him to change his lifestyle. He got bored on his own in the house but had never used a computer before.
When he became a part of Online at Home, he was surprised by what the internet could do and how much he enjoyed using it. At the end of the programme he bought an Age UK laptop and a printer to print out old pictures and things he researched.
He told us: 'It’s amazing what you can find on the internet. It keeps me entertained when I can’t get out.'
It wouldn’t have been possible for us to help Mr Jones if it had not been for the support of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. Because of the support of the Foundation, we were able to distribute 466 desktop computers, laptops and tablets to our local Age UK partners and share what we learned across the Age UK network.