Back to top

Can online innovations enhance social care?

Author: Shirley Ayres, Nominet Trust
Published Date: 15 January 2013

This is an excerpt from a provocation paper written for Nominet Trust by Shirley Ayres 

Using the digital revolution to drive social change

There is no doubt that the digital revolution has transformed our daily lives. The emergence and general acceptance of online and digital technologies in our workplaces and homes is a development that has brought positive benefits to millions of people – all in the space of just a few years. Isn’t it time to look at how that progress can be channelled into improving quality of life too?

Access to the internet and digital technology innovations are fundamentally changing the way people connect, and how they engage with and access information and support. So why has the care sector yet to take advantage of the power and potential of digital technology and social networks to develop new models of support for older people?

Surely these tools could be used to enhance social care right across Digital Britain. After all, in tough economic conditions, digital technologies offer a cost-effective way to reach out and support people in more imaginative and radical ways.

The value of digital technology in a care context

The pace of demographic change (with people living longer) and major budgetary constraints creates an ideal environment for considering and implementing new approaches to care and support for older people.

The effective use of digital technologies – based around the internet, computers, mobile phones, social networks, telecare and telehealth – will be critical in enabling people to live more independent and fulfilling lives, irrespective of their health and care needs. This will be especially true when there is an increasing demand for care services: the number of people aged over 80 is predicted to double by 2020, the number of adults with learning disabilities is forecast to rise by a third by 2030, and the number of family carers is expected to grow by 50% to nine million in the next 25 years.

At some point in our lives, we are all likely to have some degree of care need. Given the aforementioned statistics, it is highly probable that we will have carer commitments too. Whichever perspective it is viewed from, there is plenty of value that digital technology can add to lives in a care context. Foremost of these is the ability to stay connected – with friends and family, and with issues in the wider world around us.

Making lives a little easier and more enjoyable

Social exclusion, loneliness, managing health and disabilities, and unemployment are big issues for society generally. The problems for older people can be exacerbated by ill health, significant life changes such as retirement and transitions – which may require moving to supported living – and the death of partners and close friends. Retaining a sense of worth and value, keeping connected to family and friends, and continuing to contribute to society are important considerations in addressing social inclusion.

Digital technology can help to enable older people to continue working, engage with family and friends, and contribute to their communities through volunteering time, resources and support for others. It isn’t an instant fix for issues around social exclusion or loneliness. But it can make lives a little easier and more enjoyable.

The true value of digital technology really lies in solving a problem, or otherwise helping to improve the quality of our lives. One of the simplest needs among older people, for example, is the ability to stay in touch with family and friends. In this instance, digital technology opens up options and enables that valuable contact to be much more immediate. Introducing people to the concept of emails, picture sharing, social networking, and online video calls, such as Skype can realise many benefits. This is especially important when families are widely dispersed and require a simple and easy way of keeping in touch and staying connected – whether they are living at home, in residential care, are in hospital or in different parts of the world.

Read the full report here.