Can technology enable seniors to break free from isolation? An important question at a time when Silver economy players think up ever more efficient communications technologies. Faissal Houhou expresses his views on the matter on Silvereco.eu.
Faissal Houhou was born in Lyon, and was expatriated for 12 years. Three years ago, he came back to France to create
Families are busy, doctors are on vacation, and most local shops are closed…. Summer is coming, and with it, increased isolation for the elderly. As studies show, loneliness affects millions of people in France across all age groups. But the elderly suffer the most: almost a quarter of people aged 75 and above live isolated lives, either by personal choice or as a consequence of modern lifestyles.
In some families, seniors and their caregivers feel lonely
Elders are certainly not immune to autonomy loss, which leads to increased solitude, withdrawal and self-depreciation. At a time when generations rarely live under the same roof, the breakdown of family units is the leading cause of elderly isolation in France. A third of isolated seniors blame their solitude on the death of their spouse, while another third mention their children going away.
The first cause cannot be remedied, but the same cannot be said for the second one. It might be opportune to recall that elderly’s isolation and dependency also have an impact on the lives of their caregivers. Such situations also call for the questioning of each member’s role within the family unit.
Personal investment in isolated elders vary greatly from one family member to the other; designing solutions to make up for this gap is therefore essential. They might be found in the digital area, as we do live in a hyper connected world.
French families often have one main caregiver who lives the closest to the dependent person and is therefore responsible for caring for them. The caregiver may see this responsibility as a moral imperative, and may feel that other less involved family members have failed them. In September 2015, only 15% of caregivers could claim they never felt discouraged. Physical toll put aside, nearly a quarter of them felt stressed out and isolated.
When technology fosters social bonding
Both sides struggle with isolation, an unacceptable situation. In a society where technological progress offer ever more diverse and powerful communications media, what exactly are we waiting for to break the isolation of elders? Solutions and services now exist; they use telepresence systems, or those robots we’ve heard so much about. Caregivers need to be able to rely on others; seniors need to feel supported and alive.
A virtual visit is so much more fulfilling than a three-minute phone call, and makes a greater impact on everyone’s spirits. When living close to the isolated home or retirement home dwelling elder is not an option, a family can resort to telepresence systems to live a close to real life experience with their loved one despite the distance. Which makes for precious moments when living nearby is simply impossible!
« Many people view technology as somehow alienating, but it also an opportunity to offer a sensation of near-life presence and maintain affectionate social bonds. »
I was an expatriate for many years, and I am aware of the difficulties inherent to being far from your family. Many people view technology as somehow alienating, but it also an opportunity to offer the sensation of near-life presence and maintain affectionate social bonds. Telepresence is not only beneficial to elders’ health, as they offer simple cognitive stimulants that may stall some pathological developments, it also helps restore balance within families where not every member is involved to the same degree.
It is true that telepresence systems will never replace actual human contact. But what of those cases when such contact is simply not possible?