Apply Technology To Reduce Social Isolation

by Brandee Cowley, RN BSN, Apostolic Christian Skylines Home Care Services

Life has a way of isolating older adults. It occurs naturally: friends move away; retirement brings loss of work relationships; geography and circumstances create distance from family members. At the same time, mobility—the once easy process of getting from one place to another—becomes difficult or sometimes nearly impossible. All too often, the result is social isolation.

 

Numerous studies have shown that lonely or isolated older adults have a greater risk for death from all causes. The effect is greater than that of other well-established risk factors for mortality such as physical inactivity and obesity, and comparable with cigarette smoking. Isolation is a health problem.

Increasingly, research is showing that technology, often seen as impersonal and a cause of weakening social connections, may play a significant role in actually reducing social isolation. This article will explore a few of the ways technology products and services can make an impact on social isolation.

Smartphones and Tablets

Smartphones are a good choice for staying connected with friends and family. Forty-two percent of older adults now own an Apple iPhone or an Android smartphone (the Samsung phone is an example) and the number continues to grow. Social networking apps (applications) on smartphones can connect even when Internet broadband access is not available, although they do perform better with it.

Facetime on the iPhone and Skype on Android phones are apps that provide mobile person to person video chat capability. Being able to see a smile, a laugh, a head nodding or some other gesture provides a warmer, deeper emotional connection than a voice call. Friends, parents, siblings and especially grandchildren love to video chat. It offers a way to share the spontaneous moments when you’re thinking “I wish _____ was here to share this.” An iPhone user who wants to video chat with an Android device user can use the free Skype app available in the Apple App Store.

For text-based one-to-one or group conversations, Facebook and text messaging provide ways to share thoughts, ideas, and photos taken using the smartphone.

Focus on the quality rather than quantity of social connections. A Harvard study showed that having connections with trusted friends and family members is much more important than clubs, churches and other organizations.

Voice Activated Technologies

Smart speakers are relatively recent arrivals to the home technology scene. The Amazon Echo (better known as Alexa) and Google Home are two that are best known. Pilot projects in senior living communities have shown they have the potential to help older adults combat loneliness and avoid social isolation. The dialogue with their device appears to help residents feel more connected. The pilot studies have found that the simple act of conversation produces a positive emotional response that can help combat loneliness.

Ask My Buddy is a noteworthy smart speaker application available on the Echo and Google Home. It can send an alert to one or more designated contacts when the user says “Ask my buddy to send help.” While not a substitute for 911, which many wait too long to do, it gives someone who is scared or worried an easy way to reach out for assistance.

Resources

This article just skims the surface of the technologies that are becoming available to support older adults aging in place. Future issues will cover more, including senior-friendly tablets and desktop computers for seniors. Stay tuned.

The AARP Foundation has programs underway to address isolation among older adults. To learn more and to take a quiz to determine your or a loved one’s isolation risk, go to AARP Foundation’s website at www.connect2affect.org

Friends and family are the best resource for older adults learning about technology that is new to them.  Its acceptance and use in their daily lives is often a difficult process and usually requires a change in mindset. For many, the telephone has been their one and only means of staying connected to friends and family.

Be prepared to provide encouragement and assistance. Forty-eight percent of those 65 and over usually need someone else to set up or show them how to use a new electronic device, according to the Pew Research Center. Thirty-four percent of older Internet users have little to no confidence in their ability to use electronic devices to perform online tasks.

An often overlooked benefit of home care is the social connection between caregiver and client. The best home care agencies take into account the social and emotional needs of the person they serve, and assign caregivers based on the skills required and the social needs of the client.

AC Skylines Home Care provides in–home care and nursing services. For more information and a no–charge consultation, call AC Skylines Home Care Services at (309) 689–5343 or send email to homecare@acskylines.org. Visit www.acskylineshomecare.org or Facebook.com/ACskylinesHomeCare.

Apostolic Christian Skylines’ continuing care retirement community offers senior living options ranging from independent living to skilled nursing care. For more information, call Apostolic Christian Skylines at (309) 683-2500 or send email to info@acskylines.org. Visit www.acskylines.org or Facebook.com/acskylines.