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Wellbeing: A Complete Reference Guide, Volume IV, Wellbeing in Later Life by Cary L. Cooper, Thomas B. L. Kirkwood

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9

Combating Isolation Through Technology in Older People

Peter Gore

ADL Smartcare Ltd, U.K. and Newcastle University, U.K.

Introduction

Imagine a world where older people are surrounded by autonomous “support” robots; communications come through computers and other “intelligent devices” littered around the home and most tasks are automated. Special applications are developed for older people (starting at the age of 54 according to one European Social Survey) to allow them to remain “connected” to the outside world, avoiding social isolation. Such is the vision of some technologists; however, for many this is a nightmare. In this chapter we will explore how useful/realistic or otherwise this vision is, and even how well-meaning technological interventions can actually be part of the problem rather than the solution.

It is perhaps worth stating that social isolation and, of more importance (as we shall see in this chapter), self-perceived loneliness are not particularly age-related issues. At the very least, opinion is divided as to how much social isolation correlates with age, although we are going to focus on the issue from an age-related perspective, as this is the purpose of the volume. However, as we are looking at the potential for technology to address this issue we need also to consider whether the adoption of technology has particular issues in relation to age, and what challenges this might present for technological approaches.

The apparently obvious starting point for ...

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