Social isolation in older populations is a growing concern. The prevalence of loneliness in community-dwelling adults is estimated to be 43%, and both loneliness and social isolation are strongly associated with adverse health outcomes in older adults including functional impairments and mortality.[i] The current pandemic contributes significantly to the burden of isolation experienced by older adults. It has in many ways also brought attention to the role technology can play in reducing and ameliorating some of the negative health consequences associated with isolation through enabling social connectedness.
Social isolation can be defined as absent or weakened social interactions with family, friends, and neighbors and with society at large. The loss or absence of social support networks has a significant impact on mental and physical health irrespective of age. However, older adults, those without children and individuals who live alone are at increased risk for social isolation. Facilitators of social connectedness such as information and communication technology (ICT) can have immense benefits for older adults including improved health and well-being and protective effects on functional ability. Despite the potential benefits of technology in improving health outcomes for some adults, and despite being ubiquitous, ICTs are not widely used or relevant in many people lives.
Limited use of technology among older persons can be attributed to lack of access to devices or training, the usability of devices, and motivation. In his Think-Piece “Technology and Care” IFA Expert David Sinclair explains that some people will inevitably be more excited about technology than others, but motivating and inspiring older people to talk about and use technology is important. It also has important implications for more personalized social care services.[ii]
In a recent article “OK Zoomer: how seniors are learning to lead more digital lives”, researcher Dr Torgeir Alti expands on the newfound appreciation for technology some adults have gained in the era of physical distancing, and the implications this may have for socialization and communication preferences going forward.
Social distancing restrictions have in many ways tipped the balance of communications in favour of virtual social interactions. Adults who otherwise had no interest in ICTs and communication applications are increasingly finding use in online platforms that help them to stay connected and access essential services. As an example, learning to navigate various online platforms has become part of the new norm for Jillian Cheetham who uses Zoom to host her book club, an activity that has been part of her life for the past 10 years. Other platforms such as Facebook are used to “check-in” with community members and arrange for grocery drop-offs.
Online communication platforms are also used regularly and routinely in many long-term care facilities to connect residents with their loved ones. ICTs such as touchpads are being used to facilitate daily or weekly conversations with families to help overcome the social disconnect created by the physical distancing measures.
The IFA encourages those with a keen interest in the interplay between technology, ageing and innovation to attend the IFA 15th Global Conference on Ageing, March 3-5th 2021, where technological advances that have improved quality of life and life expectancy and reduced social isolation will be discussed is depth. Those interested in presenting their research are welcome to submit their abstracts here:
[i] Perissinotto, C., Holt‐Lunstad, J., Periyakoil, V. S., & Covinsky, K. (2019). A practical approach to assessing and mitigating loneliness and isolation in older adults.Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 67(4), 657-662.
[ii] Sinclair D. (2010). Technology and Care Can the web transform social care? Think-Piece. https://ilcuk.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/WebTransformSocialCare.pdf
David Sinclair Director
Particular interests in older consumers, adult vaccination, active ageing, financial services, & the role of technology in an ageing society