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Posted on: 12th August 2019Posted on: 12.08.2019  | By Lizzie Cantrell
Global network connection communication in hands on sunset background, technology and connection.

 

‘Loneliness kills. It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.’

– Robert Waldinger, Director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development

 

Social connection is a key contributor to our overall health and longevity

 

The longest study on happiness, conducted by Harvard over a 70 year period, shows that embracing community helps us to live longer and be happier. A new study by researchers at University College London, meanwhile, suggests that maintaining a healthy social life in middle age could help prevent dementia in later life, as it builds greater brain resilience.

What happens when this vital social contact becomes difficult?

 

Rural location, limited mobility and long-term health conditions can all contribute to isolation.

3.6 million older people in the UK live alone, of whom over 2 million are aged 75+, and according to ONS data, 1.5 million people in the UK aged 50 and over suffer with ‘chronic loneliness’.

And It doesn’t just affect the older generation:

It’s easy to get caught up in work, neglect relationships and end up isolated, which can have serious implications for our health. Minister for Loneliness, Mims Davies says:

‘Loneliness is one of the biggest health challenges our country faces. It can affect anyone at any time and its impact is in line with smoking or obesity.’

 

How can we tackle loneliness?

 

One way to tackle this issue is to get connected online. Of course, we’re not suggesting that online interactions can replace human contact, but they can enable meaningful online and offline relationships, and improve quality of life for many people, especially the most vulnerable members of society, such as those with disabilities and the elderly.

Fundamentally, an internet connection can allow people who live alone or in remote areas to stay in contact with friends and family (think Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp).

But there are many more ways that technology can foster real, meaningful relationships and help people to feel less alone. Here are some of our top suggestions:

  • Volunteer: why not Google ‘volunteer projects’ in your area? Getting involved with the local community can be incredibly rewarding, providing a sense of purpose as well as strengthening relationships in communities.
  • Find like-minded people: the internet is a great place to find out about groups, clubs or classes in your area, where you can meet new people. There are also countless online communities where you can connect with others who share similar interests – Facebook is a great place for this. Engaging with people online can be a great way of building relationships. A patient who is bedbound with MS, for example, can find a great deal of joy in playing online chess with people from all over the world.
  • Virtual Reality: VR can help homebound people continue to explore the world. Watch a heart-warming video of how VR is improving the lives of people with dementia here.
  • Audiobooks: this might seem like an odd one, but reading or listening to audiobooks has been found to significantly reduce feelings of loneliness and help to alleviate social isolation. ‘We read to know we are not alone’, wrote C. S. Lewis.
  • A reassuring voice: for those who live alone, Smart Assistants like Alexa or Google Assistant can provide a friendly voice with which to converse. If you say to Alexa, ‘Alexa, I’m lonely’, she will offer to call someone for you, suggest listening to music or taking a walk, or offer to read a book. Simply hearing another voice can help people to feel less alone.

Things like this can really be a lifeline for people who might otherwise struggle to maintain social contact. Read our interview with 84-year-old Daisy, one of our customers from Shaftesbury, to see how vital having reliable, superfast broadband can be for keeping in touch with loved ones.

A helping hand from Dorset Digital Champions

 

Of course, in order to access these benefits, people need to have the right digital skills. Did you know that 21% of people are not confident using the internet? That’s around 150,000 people in Dorset. Dorset Council are working to change this figure with their Digital Champions. These are trained volunteers who offer free support in libraries and other venues across Dorset, to help people in the local community to use the internet and gain basic online skills.

We are proud to support this initiative, as we truly believe in the life-transforming power of digital connectivity, and want people in our community to be able to make the most of its many benefits. You can find out more about how and where to access this support, for yourself or for a loved one, here.

With a reliable, ultrafast connection and the skills to use it, people can connect in all sorts of wonderful ways – and well-connected = longer, happier lives!

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