I read a very sad statistic recently: GPs estimate that between one and five patients visiting their surgeries every day are really there because of loneliness.
It is predicted that by 2037 in Scotland around 542,000 people aged 65 and over, a figure greater than the current population of Edinburgh, are expected to be living by themselves. Many will have relatives living far away and the sense of separation is likely to have been heightened at Christmas, but also to have continued through the winter months when going out on cold, dark days can present a real challenge for older people on their own.
Four years ago, Polwarth man Mike Ellis set up a social enterprise called Tap into IT, designed to help elderly and disabled people get connected to and feel part of the outside world. Much of Tap into IT's work takes place in sheltered housing complexes, helping residents to set up Skype and email so that they can stay in touch with distant friends and family members. As these silver surfers gain confidence, they can be shown how to do more advanced tasks such as online shopping, check travel arrangements, print off boarding passes etc. Most of this tutoring is carried out by specially trained volunteers.
In addition to Tap into IT's work with older people, one-to-one assistance with computer problems, either in person or remotely, is available to anybody who needs it. Users of this problem-solving service, who do not have to be old or disabled or housebound, pay a very modest fee, which is what provides Tap into IT with one of its main sources of income. Other support has come from a local housing association and small, one-off grants, which have enabled some of Tap into IT's work for elderly people to be offered at a subsidised rate or free of charge. All of our tutors are used to working with older people; some have expertise in accessibility software. Tap into IT has recently been invited to join the Scottish Parliamentary Cross Party Group on Digital Participation.
Tap into IT has set up computer clubs across the city where older people can not only practise using laptops, tablets and smart phones but also socialise over tea, biscuits and chat.
If you would like to know more about the work of Tap into IT, or to volunteer with us, or to join one of our clubs, please phone Mike Ellis on 0131 228 5716, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org