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Older people embracing technology to beat loneliness during pandemic – study

·2-min read

The coronavirus lockdown has seen older people embracing technology and seeking out friendships, research has found.

The University of Stirling study found people over the age of 60 are using apps such as Zoom, WhatsApp and FaceTime to socialise.

They have also reconnected with old friends and spoken more with neighbours.

Earlier research by the university found the pandemic has led to a spike in loneliness.

But the academics said there have been positive outcomes too.

Anna Whittaker, a professor of behavioural medicine who led the study, said: “Our research found that the Covid-19 lockdown triggered feelings of loneliness in older people – with many experiencing less social contact and support.

“However the study also highlighted positive outcomes, for example lockdown encouraged some older people to embrace and engage with technology – such as Zoom, WhatsApp or FaceTime – to stay in touch with loved ones or participate in exercise classes or religious groups.

“Those who engaged in such activity were able to prevent high levels of loneliness, therefore helping older adults to increase their digital literacy and use of remote social interactions could be a really important tool for addressing loneliness.”

The study surveyed 1,429 people – 84% of whom are over 60 – and found many have adapted to video conferencing technology to increase social contact.

Participants said lockdown has seen them speak with neighbours and other members of their communities for the first time, while several said social distancing has brought additional meaning to life by highlighting what is important to them.

More than 150 said their religious gatherings had moved online, while 91 said get-togethers with family and friends have been replaced with online game nights.

Apps
WhatsApp and other apps have been embraced by the elderly during lockdown, researchers found (Nick Ansell/PA)

Brian Sloan, chief executive of Age Scotland, said: “While it may prove difficult to consider any aspect of the pandemic positive as such, it is important and worthwhile to reflect on what it has taught us, both about ourselves and society and about the necessary tools to tackle Scotland’s increased levels of loneliness and isolation.

“For example, we’ve seen first-hand how important the community response has been in terms of supporting older people throughout lockdown and it has been inspiring to witness how people across the country stepped in and stepped forward to help those in need around them.

“Even as restrictions ease, we hope to see this sense of community spirit continue.”

The study was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.