Using the Internet could decrease loneliness in seniors

UAB researchers: older adults could find that going online decreases loneliness.

Among senior citizens who live in assisted- and independent-living communities, those who engage in online activity are less lonely than their peers, according to a University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) study.

elders_online_sThis research, “The Impact of Information and Communication Technologies Use on Loneliness and Contact with Others among Older Adults,” is forthcoming in “The Journal of Medical Internet Research.”

Shelia Cotten, Ph.D., professor of sociology in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences, along with her colleagues William Anderson and Brandi McCullough, discovered that using the Internet provides seniors with the social connections they need to help decrease feelings of depression and isolation.

“Older adults are at an increased risk of experiencing loneliness and depression, particularly as they move into different types of care communities,” Cotten said. “Information- and communication-technology usage has been shown to help older adults maintain contact with social ties.”

Residents in both assisted- and independent-living facilities were surveyed to examine how Internet use affects perceived social isolation and loneliness, as well as the perceptions of how Internet use affects communication and social interaction.

The data revealed that using the Internet made it easier for seniors to reach people, contributed to their ability to stay in touch, made it easier for them to meet new people, increased the quantity and quality of communication with others, made them feel less isolated and helped them feel more connected to friends and family.

“For those who move into those types of communities, loneliness can be a big issue,” Cotten said. “It is hard to stay connected as they make the transition, moving from their home. We need to encourage older adults to go online to find information and to communicate with their friends and family members. For them, using the Internet can decrease loneliness.”