Before COVID-19, Age UK estimated two million over-50s will be lonely by 2026, and the pandemic has turned later life loneliness into a social catastrophe.
This is particularly true in London, where restrictions have been consistently tight, more so than many areas of the country.
Age UK London chief executive Abigail Wood said: “Before the pandemic, there were 198,000 older Londoners who could go for up to a month without seeing a friend.
“The pandemic has dramatically increased the numbers of older Londoners feeling trapped at home.”
Many turned to technology to feel connected, with video call software like Zoom and Skype offering a sense of real-life togetherness – there’s faces, voices and even ‘rooms’ to digitally occupy.
A recent loneliness survey conducted by older people’s charity Independent Age revealed that 11% of respondents learnt to use digital technology for the first time during the pandemic.
Tablet computers have proven especially popular in the search for suitable technology during the pandemic, with sales reaching their fastest rate in 2020 since 2014.
Independent Age director of services Simon Hewett-Avison said: “People told us they are using tablets to access medical appointments.
“However, while devices like tablets can be a lifeline to some, we have a responsibility to people who are not confident with technology or struggle to access equipment like this.
“It is vital that as a society we do all we can to reach and support those who need us most and do it in a way that is accessible for them.”
This is exactly what Croydon-based charity MADE (Making A Difference Everywhere) did when the clock struck lockdown for the first time last year.
Two years ago, MADE established an over-65s group named Wiser that met one Friday every month to connect and socialise with one another.
However, Wiser had to go digital when COVID-19 restrictions began.
To ease the transition, MADE co-founders Angela Johnson and Caroline Mason sent out instructions to Wiser’s members on how to set up Zoom on their tablets and phones.
Once online, they offered live support.
Angela said: “We identified that confidence developed every time Zoom was used.
“Now, all teething issues the group previously had have gone.”
According to ‘Getting Grandma Online’, an educational gerontology study about tablet use in older adults, the tablet’s intuitive interface is what makes it so accessible to elderly users.
Wiser’s resident tech wiz 70-year-old Joyce Ward is proof of this.
Joyce learnt the ropes of technology independently and then applied her self-taught skills to help her Wiser peers learn how to use their tablets.
Friend and fellow Wiser attendee 81-year-old Denese Quinn joked that Joyce’s self-taught skills are so great that she has become a bit of a show-off.
For 81-year-old Jean Moseley, who has attended Wiser for two years, the journey to digital confidence was not as easy.
Jean first tried to tackle technology by using library computers but found them too complicated, so opted for an iPad.
Jean said: “My daughter said the best thing for me to have is an iPad.
“So, I said to her: ‘I’ll get an iPad, but don’t grumble and moan if I ring you up when I get stuck!’
“I use it all the time and I really love it.
“I even do my banking on it now!”
Jean’s experience is not uncommon, as of the participants in ‘Getting Grandma Online’, 19% had previously struggled with learning to use a computer.
There was a boom in worldwide tablet shipments last summer, with demand assumed to be primarily in older adults and school students.
Apple shipped 13.9 million iPads worldwide throughout July, August and September last year, an increase from 11.8 million units across the same months in 2019.
Other brands have seen monumental tablet popularity: Samsung shipped 89.2% more tablets in summer 2020 than in 2019, while Lenovo shipped 62.4% more.
Owning a tablet has been a lifeline for many during the pandemic, including Wiser attendee 77-year-old Kenzie Gray.
Kenzie said: “I take my hat off to my tablet. It’s a lifeline.
“And I especially like using Zoom because it has a closeness to it.
“Just to see somebody else’s face, have a chat and have a laugh, it’s really, really good.”
Jean added: “As you can see, we’re all very happy.”