Use of Information and Communication Technologies to support social connections for older people

Ambition for Ageing's researcher based at the University of Manchester has conducted a brief literature review on the use of information and communication technologies to support social connections for older people. 

The response to COVID-19 has meant we have all been grappling with new ways of maintaining social contact whilst also observing social distancing and self-isolation guidance. A brief review of the academic literature on the role of digital technology for maintaining social connections for older people is patchy, with very little in the way of guidance around best practice. However, we have identified some guiding principles of engaging older people in using digital technologies which seem particularly salient given the current pandemic situation;

  • When introducing older people to new technology it is important that this is led by their needs. Being clear about how an app for example can benefit a particular aspect of their lives such as, keeping in touch with friends, can improve take up rates. 

  • Learning how to use new technologies can be greatly enhanced by peer support. Although digital technologies might be new to some there are many older people who are confident users and this could be embraced.

  • The use of digital technologies can bring a sense of empowerment to older people. As well as being the receivers of support and information they are also able to give it to others therefore there is the potential to develop reciprocal intergenerational and peer relationships here.

Of course, the realities of digital exclusion and risks posed by online fraud should not be overlooked, but there is still a lot that is already being done to make digital technologies a supportive part of everyday life for older people. More research however is clearly needed, particularly research that considers how diverse groups of older people engage with different types of technologies. 

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