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It Really Is Good to Talk

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Recent predictions from the Office of National Statistics suggest that one in three babies born today will live to 100 and beyond. Bearing in mind our ageing population, we've been doing quite a lot of work over the past five years to think about how we can enable us all to live our lives the way we want to, where we want to. Probably our biggest finding so far is that it's people that really matter. Now you might think this obvious - it is something I hold dear - however I was pleased when some of our recent conversations reinforced this belief in what should be a universal truth.

We've been talking to people across the UK and found out that a large proportion of older adults want to be more socially active than they are - shock, horror you might say, and I'd be with you - however it's not always as easy to achieve as it seems. When we've asked, despite social confidence increasing significantly with age - over a third of people aged over 65 would like to be more socially active.

When people aren't as connected as they could be this can lead to loneliness, however some recent work has started to think about this in terms of self-perceived isolation - so it's not just about being alone - it's actually more about thinking you are. In fact I heard at a recent conference held by the Royal Academy of Engineering that some work in the US is showing that the health impact of self-perceived isolation could be as large as smoking. I've not read the study yet so I don't know its size, approach or even if it's true but it does indicate that we shouldn't overlook some of the more obvious ways to improve our wellbeing.

Providing opportunities for older adults to stay connected is the thing we need to improve - a fifth of over-65s (21%) say they do not have enough family and friends to stay socially active.

The move away from the classic nuclear family might be part of this and also the fact that we're now living further apart or maybe that we just think we're too busy. However that's no excuse for us not to make new friends - it's easier to find new friends than new family, after all - but we do need to put the effort in. We also need to think cleverly about how we can improve products and services and innovate to enable older adults to spend time with others more easily - recognising that everyone has a part to play in society and has a valuable contribution to make to it.

Now, since I work for an organisation called the Technology Strategy Board you might think that I'd be of the opinion that technology is the answer to everything but the one thing I've definitely learnt over the past few years is that it isn't. It's actually people that matter and most of us are at our best when we're connected with others - technology can and does help but it's not the be-all and end-all.

So come on you entrepreneurs, businesses, designers and anyone else because we all have a part to play - how can we change things for the better and #InnovateForAge? If you've got ideas, come and talk about what needs to change to improve later life at www.tomorrowtogether.org.uk

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