Do Loneliness and Social Connectedness Improve in Older Adults Through Mobile Technology?

Do Loneliness and Social Connectedness Improve in Older Adults Through Mobile Technology?

Rochell R. McWhorter (The University of Texas at Tyler, USA), Julie A. Delello (The University of Texas at Tyler, USA), Christine S. Gipson (The University of Texas at Tyler, USA), Beth Mastel-Smith (The University of Texas at Tyler, USA) and Kleanthe Caruso (The University of Texas at Tyler, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2914-0.ch009


About one-fifth of the population in the United States in 2015 will be age 65 or older in 2050 and loneliness may be a contributing factor that inhibits their well-being and overall health. As the number of older adults continues to escalate, information and communication technologies such as smartphones and computers may create an increase in social connectedness leading to a decline in loneliness and social isolation. Results from this pilot study suggest that the older adult participants demonstrated some degree of loneliness. As the older adults used social media to connect with friends, family, and other information of interest, there was an increase in social connectedness for many of the participants, but the intensive iPad intervention was not significant in terms of reducing loneliness for either group over time.
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It is projected that by 2030, one in five US residents will be 65 years or older (United States Census Bureau, 2018). As the number of older adults continues to increase, these individuals may experience loneliness due to retirement (Neville, et al., 2018; UNFPA, 2012), living alone (Chaumon, Michel, Bernard, & Croisile, 2013), reduced mobility, declines in health, or limited income (Chihuri, et al., 2016; Warner, Roberts, Jeanblanc, & Adams, 2017). Loneliness, as defined by Young (1982), is the “perceived absence of satisfying social relationships, accompanied by symptoms of psychological distress that are related to the perceived absence” (p. 380). The prevalence of loneliness is as high as one in three among older adults in the United States (, 2018a; Gerst-Emerson & Jayawardhana, 2015). This is quite concerning since several health conditions such as depression, coronary artery disease, and hypertension are highly correlated with loneliness in older adults (Hacihasanoğlu, Yildirim, & Karakurt, 2011) and can lead to premature death (Emerson & Jayawardhana, 2016).

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) such as smartphones, digital tablets, and computers connected to the Internet hold promise for addressing social isolation in older adults (Meshi, Cotton, & Bender, 2019; Tsai, Shillair & Cotton, 2015). For example, Delello and McWhorter (2015, 2017) found iPads enhanced the lives of the older adults by strengthening family relationships and connecting them to society. Further, research on social networking sites (SNSs) such as Facebook and Twitter have been shown to contribute to seniors’ wellbeing and aid them in continuing relationships with family and friends at a distance (Khosravi, Rezvani, & Wiewiora, 2016). But, direct technical instruction to use ICTs was recommended for older adults to build their confidence and technology skills (AARP, 2018b; Delello & McWhorter, 2017). Recently, U.S. President Donald Trump commissioned a special Task Force on Research and Development for Technology to Support Aging Adults, which identified a range of emerging technologies, which may support independent living and improve social connectiveness. The Task Force specifically noted that more research is needed to demonstrate “the effectiveness of interventions, including online social networks, to reduce social isolation and loneliness among seniors, as well as the mechanisms by which the interventions exert effects” (The White House, 2019, p. 13).

In a report titled Gauging Aging, the public has largely viewed aging as a period of physical and cognitive deterioration, reduced potential, and technological incompetence (Lindland, Fond, Haydon, Kendall-Taylor, 2014). However, according to the United States Senate’s Special Committee on Aging (2017), the proportion of people in the working-age population worldwide who are between the ages of 65 to 74 is projected to grow by 4.2 percent annually and the number of workers over age 75 by 6.7% annually.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Loneliness: Feelings of sadness typically due to the absence of frequent interaction with others.

Encore Career: A new employment path for older adults that can add financial value and meaningfulness.

Senior Retirement Community: A comprehensive term that encompasses senior care within various living arrangements such as independent, assisted, and personal care homes.

Application: A small specialized software program often referred to as an “app” used in mobile devices for learning, leisure, or utility purposes.

Older Adults: A term for senior citizens who are at the age of retirement from full-time employment.

Mobile Technologies: Portable devices such as smartphones, wearable devices, and digital tablets utilizing micro software programs.

Digital Divide: Unequitable differences between those utilizing technology and those that are not.

Gerontechnology: Use of information and communication technologies as well as assistive technology to facilitate and enhance activities of daily living for older adults.

Videoconferencing: Utilizing technology to facilitate a digital meeting that transmits both voice and video data.

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