A new survey shows that the use of social technology is linked to better well-being for adults aged 80 or more years, and it demonstrates social technology’s potential for combating isolation. The research also reveals older adults’ frustration and need for assistance in becoming part of the digital world, however.
In the “Rewiring Aging” survey, supported by Brookdale Senior Living and conducted by Kelton in collaboration with the Stanford Center on Longevity, 58% of older adults surveyed said they believe that technology can improve communication with family and friends. Additionally, respondents who indicated that they interact with loved ones through social technology also reported having higher life satisfaction and health and being more likely to attain life goals than those who do not use social technology.
Few people surveyed, however, actually are experiencing these benefits. Only one-third of respondents reported using a personal computer at least once a month, and less than one in five said they use text messaging. Twenty-seven percent can be considered “virtual shut-ins” who do not use any technologic devices, apps or programs. A major reason for their lack of use is the perceived difficulty; nearly half of the survey respondents believe it takes too long to understand and keep pace with new technology.
“Human connection is crucial for people at all ages, but especially so for seniors,” said Kevin O’Neil, MD, Brookdale’s chief medical officer and a board-certified internist and geriatrician. “Loneliness in this age group is associated with shorter life spans and chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, depression and even dementia. That’s why engaging seniors with others is a focus of our communities. Helping those in their 80s and above connect through technology is an opportunity to enhance their well-being even further.”
Many seniors appear receptive to the idea. One-third of survey participants said they would like to be able to text or video chat with family and friends, and more than one-fourth said they would be interested in taking group classes to learn how to do so. Only 5% say they are completely opposed to new technology.
“This study puts data to what we have been seeing on a daily basis across our organization as we help our residents connect through technology,” said Sara Terry, Brookdale’s vice president of resident and family engagement. The company has been helping those in its care to learn to use Skype and social networking technology with its InTouch computer system, which is designed to be easy for seniors to use. Brookdale also is developing an iPad mentor program.
“We find that most are very receptive and that it quickly becomes an important part of their lives. It brings wonderful emotional benefits that complement the focus on relationships and connection that is central to our mission,” Terry said.
Update: A related study was published in The Journals of Gerontology on Oct. 4.