Loneliness is one of the big issues in elderly care, partly due big societal changes. 50 years ago most people died less than 15 kilometer from the place that they were born.
This meant that families for the most part lived close together and had frequent contact with each other. Nowadays families often live all over the country. Distance is a big hurdle for intimate contact. Also, the loss of the church as the place where generations meet every Sunday is an important factor. It is much harder to ignore loneliness when you physically meet every week.
There have been lots of projects that try to prevent loneliness by enabling people to communicate over the Internet with the help of tools like Skype or PAL4. The ability to use this technology is often found to be a problem in these projects.The more surprising it is to see how in some cases people start to use technology all by themselves with little or no problem. For example, for the pensionados in Spain it’s quite normal to communicate with their grandchildren through Skype. For me this is the proof that it’s often not an issue of technological complexity but of perceived incentive. A great example at the moment is WordFeud on the iPad. The iPad itself is of course a great tool for elderly people, due to it’s intuitive use. WordFeud is a popular game on the iPad, resembling Scrabble, that is played by many elderly people.
(Digital) conversations against loneliness
Games are always a great seducer to get people to interact with one another. In WordFeud the possibility also exists to chat with your opponent while playing a game. This leads to lots of conversations, often between elderly and their family but also between strangers. Conversation diminishes loneliness and less loneliness leads to less doctor visits… The best examples for the creation of social technologies in healthcare can often be found in everyday life. When families get together they also often play boardgames like Scrabble. I fondly remember the games of Scrabble we played with my grandmother. WordFeud brings this same mechanism to our digital lives. And often keeping the conversation alive through a digital channel enhances the meetings in real live.
Also published on www.tedxmaastricht.nl