Posted: Fri 23rd Aug 2013

Blog: The internet can save the elderly from loneliness

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Friday, Aug 23rd, 2013




My 80-year-old parents live in Italy. But they read this blog daily, Skype me sometimes twice a day, and we email each other regularly.

My 80-year-old parents live in Italy. But they read this blog daily, Skype me sometimes twice a day, and we email each other regularly.

This would have been unthinkable only a few years ago.

My father was always internet-savvy, but my mother didn’t own a computer, let alone an iPad.

We would have had to rely on expensive phone calls and slow (especially given the Italian post) letters.

In this way, she was typical of her sex and her age — a new report by Age UK found that the overwhelming majority of the female elderly are Luddites.

Earlier this year, my mother took a crash course in IT — taught her by a charming 34-year-old Ukrainian.

She hasn’t looked back since: she uses her laptop and iPad constantly, to communicate with us but also with friends and former colleagues.

She may be in Italy, but she can now connect with family in Britain and Sweden.

The woman who once complained of feeling “a bit lonely” now is at the centre of a lively network of far-flung OAPs.

Age UK is right to urge the Government to promote internet training for older Britons.

Given that loneliness debilitates and depresses, this is a great investment that will spare the NHS a fortune.

It will also spare GPs a lot of time: one GP told me recently that half her elderly patients came to see her for imagined ailments — only to have a contact with a human being.

This explains why Jeremy Hunt has been an enthusiastic supporter of the Second Half centre I visited earlier this year in west London.

The brainchild of a go-getting American, Jill Shaw Ruddock, the centre offers IT training (as well as zumba classes, arts and cooking lessons, etc) to anyone over 50. Its location —  St Charles’s Hospital in North Kensington — and its fees (£1 or £2) have attracted thousands who would otherwise be stay-at-home loners.

Hunt knows that the stats are miserable: more than a million pensioners  describe themselves as ‘lonely’.

Volunteering groups like Neighbourhood Watch can help, of course. But for many elderly people, being at the receiving end of do-gooding feels all wrong; they much prefer being given the means to keep loneliness at bay.

Cristina Odone is a journalist, novelist and broadcaster specialising in the relationship between society, families and faith. She is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies and is a former editor of the Catholic Herald and deputy editor of the New Statesman. She is married and lives in west London with her husband, two stepsons and a daughter. She has recently launched the website

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