Connection older adults and their families through social technology

Abstract

Older adults often face problems with loneliness and social isolation, which is a risk factor for poorer mental and physical health. Family relationships play a major role in the contact- and care-provision for older adults and have a great impact on their health and well-being. As traditional family systems decline and with the global society shifting toward geographically dispersed families, interactive opportunities between family members decrease. Thus, finding ways to encourage intergenerational communication and strengthen family relationships is important for public health. New and emerging technologies (such as WhatsApp, Skype, and Facetime) provide opportunities to facilitate social connectedness with family members. Understanding older adults’ behaviors and perceptions related to digital communication tools can inform the development of interventions to target challenges with technology and increase the adoption of these tools for social communication.

My research topic examines loneliness and isolation in elderly family members and aims to test an intervention to increase contact between young adults and their grandparents through training in instant messaging apps (e.g., online video and phone calls). The first study aims to explore facilitators and barriers among younger and older adults using a cross-sectional design. The findings of the first study will inform the development of a psychoeducation intervention meant to reduce psychological, education, and technical barriers so that communication between grandparents and their grandchildren can be improved. The secondary objective is to evaluate the impact of this intervention on health and well-being outcomes in a randomized controlled trial.

Results of study 1 are promising and suggest that online interactions can be beneficial for health and well-being and a good way to maintain social interactions. Thus, we invite grandparents and their grandchildren to get involved with the Connect2Family Study, which will start in late summer and autumn 2021 in Klagenfurt. Connect2Family aims to reduce loneliness and isolation among older adults and strengthen the communication between grandparents and grandchildren by using Telegram, a new instant messaging app. We provide support and instructions on how to use tablets and the app. Throughout the four-week intervention, participants also receive temporary use of a tablet. All participants will have the opportunity to be entered into a lottery draw to win one 100voucher. For further information, please email Janina.Mueller@aau.at or call +43 463 2700 1671.

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