The mind has two functions. One of these is what is sometimes called the intellectual or cognitive function, or the computer function if you prefer it, namely thinking, remembering, calculating and decision making. The other function is the emotional function concerned with feeling and the two functions of course are inter-linked
Not surprisingly as people live longer the challenges they face can lead to an increase in depression and anxiety. However research has shown that people in their seventies appreciate how good life has been compared to their parents'generation or indeed the struggles that younger people face nowadays, so depression and anxiety have been shown to be lower with a higher quality of life among older people in some studies.
Isolation of course is an important challenge and about 4 million people are isolated and spend most, or all, of their time in their dwelling. Obviously, the best thing to do is to help them get out of their dwelling to meet others. A variety of different approaches often stimulated by social prescribing are being developed to encourage this and facilitate or make easier trips outside the home particularly for people who no longer have a driving licence. Radio too plays an important part for people who are housebound and both radio and television can be intellectually stimulating or rewarding but The typical picture in the minds of many is of course the older person on a sofa watching the telly, hour after hour after hour. However it is often much more rewarding, both intellectually and emotionally, to share experiences with other people and that is why people like book clubs or going to concerts rather than sitting on their own listening to a concert at home.
Fortunately the Internet offers the opportunity of developing groups, not just groups of people listening or watching at the same time or groups of people who have read the same book but groups where things can happen, namely discussion and reflection about what has been seen and heard. One of the priorities of the Optimal Ageing Programme is to develop internet based solutions which might just be discussion groups where you can hear other people speak or the use of virtual reality so that you really feel that you are in a concert hall or in a library and you can hear and see other people sharing the space with you.
For this reason people need to be helped to optimise their use of the internet including what has been the preserve of the young – virtual reality. By using the power of virtual reality, sometimes called immersive technology, it is possible to attend a concert with friends or walk along the Great Wall of China or go down the Grand Canal in Venice or return to your school playground or scout hall.
This is the future and the future, as always, is already here but it is just not evenly distributed.