Loneliness and social isolation are two complex subjects, however, they have remained relatively under-researched. In the past few years, local authorities, health and social care providers and third-sector organizations have been giving more attention to these subjects. This comes due to the growing evidence that loneliness and social isolation have a negative impact on the health and wellbeing of the individual. IoTUK has researched this matter and highlighted the innovative uses of technology to address loneliness and isolation.
IoTUK Social Isolation and Loneliness Report
The research conducted by IoTUK has shown that social isolation and loneliness can have a negative impact on the health of the individual. Surprisingly, the lack of social connections is comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Moreover, it has worse health outcomes than risks as obesity and physical inactivity. These are shocking outcomes and shed light on the seriousness of this problem.
The report published by the IoTUK provides insight on how social isolation and loneliness can impact the National Health Service. More than 60% of individuals are more likely to visit emergency departments if they live on their own than with a spouse. Besides, it also shows a clear link between loneliness and mental health issues such as depression.
“Our cities are growing ever more crowded, generating significant challenges for urban design, housing and health and social care provision,” suggested Hannah Harniess, Interim Program Director at the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator. “Changing demographics and increasing numbers of people in single-person households are contributing to rising levels of social isolation, loneliness, and rising mental health issues.”
Technology Driven Solutions to Battle Social Isolation and Loneliness
Smart cities make use of various technologies to improve the life of their citizens. To be able to strive social isolation and loneliness, cities have found that solutions can be achieved by making use of technology. This has led to initiatives that can help individuals to battle their social isolation and loneliness. In fact, the uses of these approaches are good for both the citizen as for the local government. Having fewer citizens battling social isolation and loneliness improves the life of the citizens on the overall and reduces health costs for the local government. Among the tech-driven case studies highlighted in this report:
The Casserole Club was founded in 2011 by FutureGov as a new kind of community project. This club has been designed specially to connect individuals who like to cook and often have extra portions of home-cooked food to share with those who are not able to cook for themselves. The service is offered to individuals through a website, which allows individuals to sign up as cooks and search for dinners in their area who they can offer a meal too.
Currently, this service is being provided in local areas across England and Australia and has more than 7,000 people signed up to take part in this service. The casserole club allows individuals to connect with each other over a home cooked meal and connect to their neighbors who need it the most.
According to the Casserole Club, over 80% of the people that receive a meal through this service wouldn’t have much social contact without the club. Moreover, over 70% of those that receive the meal consider their volunteer cooks as friends. Therefore, it can be said that this service is being successful in connecting individuals. The service allows individuals to make friendships and share good conversations.Ultimately, this can help individuals to feel less lonely and battle possible social isolation.
The Good Gym initiative was launched in 2009 and works to channel the energy people use while exercising to deliver a positive social impact. This initiative is made available to individuals through the use of an online platform which pairs elderly individuals with local runners. Furthermore, this initiative is focused on three main features:
- Run missions: Volunteers help older people by completing tasks are they are unable to do, such as gardening and painting.
- Coach runs: Volunteers are paired with an older person and run to their house on a weekly basis. The older person is the coach of the volunteer as they help to motivate them to continue running.
- Group runs: Volunteers come together to help local organizations with tasks such as creating community gardens or clearing derelict land.
The Good Gym initiative pairs elderly individuals with local runners and represents an innovative way of combating social isolation and loneliness. This service is available in London, Bath, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Colchester, Sheffiel, and York.
The report of IoTUK, highlights the dangers of social isolation and loneliness. However, more than that this report provides valuable insight for local governments on how they can fight against this matter in their cities. The highlighted initiatives in this report, provide cities with valuable ideas on how they can fight against social isolation and loneliness in their cities. The IoTUK report, shows that the local governments have to take more in consideration to make their cities smart. Smart city projects focused on the wellbeing of citizens are important for a city to function properly.