A GROUNDBREAKING pilot scheme designed to reconnect older people with their communities and banish social isolation is underway.
The MobileAge project aims to use specially developed technology to encourage older people to be more active and combat loneliness.
The social prescribing app, developed by experts at Lancaster University as part of a two-year Europe-wide study, helps older people identify opportunities to get out and about in their area.
Now, residents of South Lakes Housing in Cumbria have become the first in the UK to trial MobileAge after Windermere-based firm Alertacall, which provides world class services designed to improve contact with older people and higher needs groups, stepped in to provide 80 interactive tablets with the application installed and ready to use.
It allows people to find clubs, activities and volunteering opportunities in their area at the touch of a button.
Crucially, it also provides users with all the essential information they need in order to go to their chosen activity.
This includes the weather forecast and hours of daylight on the day, whether the route is walkable and if it involves hills - all areas of concern that can be off-putting for people who live on their own.
Professor Niall Hayes from Lancaster University led the team of researchers to develop the app.
He said: “It is fantastic to see the success of the pilot with South Lakes Housing. Better connecting older adults with their communities is very important if we are to tackle the so called loneliness epidemic.
“The app has been designed to be purposefully simple so should be easy to use, and family, friends, neighbours and carers can access it on behalf of a friend or relative to help them plan their weeks.
“It is designed to reduce cognitive strain by putting valuable information at the users’ fingertips that would otherwise take 100 clicks to reach, or a lot of time and effort to find out in person or by telephone.
“Seeing Alertacall integrate it into their service offering is very exciting. Alertacall already has a strong offering through their range of contact services and the OKEachDay platform, and I am confident that the MobileAge app will complement this.
“I look forward to working with them to further develop the app and roll it out to their nationwide client base.”
South Lakeland was selected as the UK’s pilot area based on its ‘super-aging’ population.
Data shows 25.5 per cent of residents are aged 65 or over, compared to a national average of 17 per cent.
In addition, the area has seen a 36 per cent increase in the number of over 85s who live alone.
The tablets are now operational in the towns of Kendal, Windermere, Ulverston and Kirkby Lonsdale.
Martin Cutbill, is a director of Alertacall, a firm providing technology that allows thousands of people across the UK to live safely in their own homes for longer.
He said: “Alertacall has a close association with Lancaster University and the aims of the MobileAge study are closely aligned with our own.
“Many older people want to retain their independence but living on your own can sometimes lead to feeling isolated from your community.
“The MobileAge app has been designed to show technology can play a vital role in helping people to stay connected to their community. By making it easier to find out more it will give people the confidence to join in activities nearby.”
Martin added: “We have provided customised tablets across four locations so that residents can try it out and we have been working directly with them and the housing provider to make sure they know how to make the most of the MobileAge application.”
Gordon Sisson, from South Lakes Housing, said the app was helping residents to become more active so they can take part in social activities and meet new people in their local area.
“We are really excited to be part of this innovative project which aims to reduce social isolation and aid integration into community activities.
“We are always looking for ways to support the independence of our sheltered tenants and MobileAge is helping to do that in an innovative way.”
Loneliness and social isolation are considered to be a major global health risk as people live independently for longer.
The findings of the MobileAge study in South Lakeland will be used to inform written policy briefs for the UK government as well as feeding into results from similar pilots across Europe.