Social isolation and loneliness are detrimental to the health and well-being of older adults. Yet at a time when families and friends are scattered across the world, avoiding loneliness in old age can be nearly impossible for the less mobile elderly. A new study reviewed the effectiveness of technology in alleviating social isolation in senior citizens.

The study evaluated several different types of social technologies, such as social network sites, pet robots, video games, and 3D environments. It found that each had a positive impact on older adults’ social satisfaction, albeit each technology accomplished this in different ways. For instance, social network sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, reduced levels of loneliness by enabling adults to build and continue social relationships; this is found to be an essential element in preserving well-being in old age. Pet robots, such as PARO the seal, reduced loneliness by providing emotional support and giving adults a reliable companion.

In addition, the study showed that video games not only had a positive impact on the cognitive functioning of older adults, but they also alleviated their sense of physical isolation. This was particularly true of online and multiplayer video games. Lastly, social isolation was reduced when older adults interacted as avatars in online 3D environments.

Loneliness in old age has been linked to poor cognitive functioning, poor sleep quality, and impaired memory and mental health. By showing that technology can play a significant role in reducing loneliness in older adults, this study also shows ways that the side effects of loneliness can be lessened. If we want to improve the well-being of our parents and grandparents, it’s time to stop thinking of technology as a young person’s game.

Khosravi, P., Rezvani, A., & Wiewiora, A. (2016). The impact of technology on older adults' social isolation. Computers in Human Behavior, 63(1), 594–603.

Image: The Veteran’s Afternoon Walk by Cliffano Subagio via Flickr