Curbing Loneliness in Care Homes through Virtual Technologies

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The demographic characteristics of the population in the UK is characterized by the presence of individuals who are aged 60 or above. This is indicative of the presence of an ageing population as people now have a longer life expectancy due to advancements in medicine and improvements in living conditions. Close to 1/4th of the UK’s population is aged 60 and above – which comprises of 15.5 million people. Accordingly, more than 600,000 residents in the UK are aged 90 and above while more than 3 million individuals are aged 80 or over. The Office of National Statistics reports that by the year 2041, the number of individuals who are aged 85 or above will stand at more than twice of the present figure. 

Given the present dynamics of the UK’s population, the proportion of older individuals that reside in care home is comparatively low. As of 2016, more than 400,000 individuals resided in care homes. 40% of the individuals residing in these homes are receiving treatment for dementia. In 2018, it was reported that the UK had greater than 11,000 caring homes out of which approximately 42% were nursing homes. 

Elderly individuals experience challenges during their day-to-day life at care homes. One of these issues is that of loneliness which has an adverse impact on the quality of life, well-being, and health of the older population. Sustained feelings of loneliness are linked with a general dissatisfaction towards the quantity and quality of social relationships and interactions that individuals experience. It is also associated with the feeling of being socially isolated due to a lack or absence of social ties (Hanratty et al., 2018). 

According to a research conducted by Gardiner et al. (2020), the level of moderate and severe loneliness experienced by residents of care homes is alarming. The study found that on an average, 61% of care home residents reported to have experienced loneliness whereas 35% reported that they suffered from severe loneliness.

Previous Literature

Literature on age and ageing has addressed several key challenges faced by individuals residing in care homes. The prevalent themes in this area include studies on neglect in care homes and the distinct needs of an aging population. In their research, Neves, Sanders and Kokanovic (2019) examined the dimensions of loneliness and social isolation the setting of care homes. The study showcased the significance of identifying the differences between loneliness and social isolation whereby the latter was recognized as a self-imposed phenomenon whereas loneliness was deemed to be a private and rather stigmatizing experience. The study design was based on a qualitative methodology which was categorized into two stages. Moreover, data collection methods included recording 101 hours of observation and conducting semi-structured interviews from 22 participants. The research presented recommendations for devising interventions and coping strategies that adhered to an individualistic and social perspectives while offering prospects for social connectedness. 

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