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Evidence Summary

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New technologies can help to reduce social isolation among older adults

Khosravi P, Rezvani A, Wiewiora A.  The impact of technology on older adults’ social isolation  Computers in Human Behaviour. 2016; 63: 594-603.

Review question

What technological interventions have been proposed to reduce social isolation? How effective have such technological interventions been in alleviating the social isolation of seniors?

Background

Over the next several decades, the percentage of older adults is expected to increase, and with this trend the use of healthcare systems will grow. Many of those in the senior population face biomedical issues as well as psychosocial factors such as social isolation and loneliness.

Evidence shows that social isolation and loneliness is linked to poor cognitive functioning, mortality, impaired sleep and daytime dysfunction, and dementia, and reduces physical activity. Because of this, initiatives including the use of technology-based interventions have been implemented to increase social contact and improve emotional well-being. 

This review aims to identify the information addressing the effectiveness of technological interventions that are proposed to reduce social isolation for older adults.

How the review was done

A detailed search of a number of electronic databases for studies published from 2000 to 2015 was conducted. Studies that focused on the elderly or adults over the age of 50, social isolation or loneliness, and technology and communication technology were included in the review.

A total of 5,832 studies were identified in searches, and 34 were included in the review after assessments for eligibility.

The authors did not acknowledge any funding sources for this review.

What the researchers found

The studies included in this review identified the following eight technological-based interventions: general information and communication technologies; video games; robotics; personal-reminder information and social-management system; asynchronous peer-support chat rooms; social network sites; tele-care; and 3-D virtual environments.

The most frequently used technological interventions for older adults included general information and communication technologies, robots and social network sites. To identify the effectiveness of these technological interventions on preventing social isolation for the elderly, the University of California Los Angeles loneliness scale was used for measurement in most cases.

Several studies have linked general information and communication and social-network-site technologies with a significant decrease in loneliness among older adults. Seniors often face impaired mobility, and technological resources such as Facebook help them overcome immobility preventing them from being involved with their family and friends’ networks.

Conclusion

Of the eight technology-based interventions, general information and communication technologies was proven as most effective and accessible in limiting the loneliness of older adults. In addition, of the new technology-based programs, video games and personal-reminder information and social-management systems were deemed most effective in preventing social isolation of seniors.

Although there are a number of studies discussing the impact of technological interventions on preventing social isolation among older adults, there is an opportunity to investigate the significant effectiveness of the variety of technological interventions, such as the impact of 3-D virtual environment interventions. Further research is recommended in this area.




Glossary

Cognitive function
Mental processes, including thinking, learning and remembering.

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DISCLAIMER These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (info@mcmasteroptimalaging.org).

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