Loneliness is a big problem, especially with older people. According to Age UK around one million people regularly go for a month without speaking to anyone. Half of those aged seventy five and over live alone and ten percent of those over sixty five say they always or often feel lonely.
These are sad statistics. In a world filled with people it is a damning indictment of modern society.
Chronic loneliness has dramatic effects on health as well. It can increase the chances of premature death by as much as fourteen percent, which is on a par with the risk from obesity and approaching that caused by poverty. Some studies put the figure at closer to thirty percent.
Here’s an idea to try and address the problem. All it needs is a trusted organisation to manage it, such as Age UK, the Mental Health Foundation, the NHS or local authorities and a number of internet connected devices.
The device will be wearable, perhaps like a watch or a necklace and will do three things: Firstly it will provide location and status data to a central trusted database; Secondly it will recognise when it is in proximity to another similar device, say within two meters and; Thirdly it will mark out how long it has been since being in proximity to another device by changing colour or size, for example.
The trusted organisation would leaflet drop an area asking people who are lonely to take part in the scheme. Anyone who responds is given one of the devices and asked to wear it when they are awake. The device will transmit data giving real time information on how many lonely people there are and where they are. Over time the device will change its look or feel to show the wearer that they and others have been in the same situation for a growing period of time.
The trusted organisation will then send a letter (yes a letter) to each registered person saying that there are a given number of people living near then in a similar position. They will be invited to respond should they wish to get in touch with others, giving enough information to make some limited choices, perhaps covering age and gender.
Providing all parties agree then meetings will be arranged. Once people come together their devices will automatically reset to their starting position. In this way the trusted organisation will know how many people have met and with what frequency. They will also know who hasn’t and so may need a little more encouragement. The wearers meanwhile will get a reminder, by looking at their device, of how long it is since they met up with another person in the same predicament. This will be an incentive to act sooner.
My suggestion is paradoxical in that showing people that there loneliness is shared will hopefully spur them into action.
I know that there will be many issues to address with this idea, not least designing the correct device yet internet connected sensors are beoming smaller and cheaper every day. There may be issues with transport, mobility, security and nervousness but I am sure that these could be overcome.
How about it?