Loneliness among older people is becoming common.
In this modern era, people are becoming busier and more attached to work. Many children grow up and choose to work or study away from home. The older folks are often left behind and feel disconnected from society. They lack social interaction, which has led them to create a false belief of not being appreciated.
This situation worsens when an old person loses his/her partner, has fewer relatives or friends, and has limited contact with others.
Many studies show that loneliness is associated with dementia, depression, reduced sleep quality, decreased physical activity and even premature death.
Therefore, an alternative approach is required to combat loneliness in older people.
The use of technology is one solution.
Despite the various challenges that prevent seniors from using computer technology, such as computer anxiety, research has reported that an increasing number of older people are now exposed to and use technology in their daily life.
There are many types of new technologies which help older people maintain and develop social support networks such as the mobile phone, computer, internet, email and social media including Facebook and WhatsApp.
These technologies provide a new way to interact with others, encourage older people to communicate more with their friends and family members, and provide access to a wide variety of information and community resources.
Studies have found that these technologies benefit older people by preventing loneliness.
Not only can technology facilitate human interaction, it can also simulate it.
Technology can make older people feel as if they are spending time with others. Video sharing websites such as YouTube, Dailymotion and Metacafe are good companions.
There are a lot of websites that can help older people feel like they are spending time with others such as watching news, following personalities who provide advice on common issues, role-playing and even watching people play video games.
These diverse genres of videos also have a lot of online communities that can help provide additional support and interaction.
Video-calling platforms such as Skype, Zoom, FaceTime and WhatsApp may also help in reducing loneliness by linking people together. They allow older people to connect with others who may live in another city or country. For those who have limited mobility, these applications are very useful.
Several companies offer robotic pets to older people who are most at the risk of loneliness. These include dogs, cats and even seals. The robotic cats, for example, move by using batteries and have built-in sensors.
They are created in a way that makes them look natural. They can open and close their eyes, lift their paws and move their head and body. If you pet them on their belly or backside, they will “purr”.
With mobile applications such as Grab, older people can get out and engage with others.
Whether it is for hospital appointments, social events, religious events, or shopping for groceries, it is an alternative resource for older people to be independent.
By not having to rely on friends and family for transportation, they can arrange a ride when they need it, rather than feel they are constantly asking for favours.
For those who can drive, they can use Waze, Apple Map or Google Map to go to places they are not familiar with.
Nowadays, there are also several loneliness interventions.
Some of the interventions are call support lines or telephone befriending services whereby older people can call when they are feeling lonely. Other interventions involve the use of the internet, social media and email.
Still, despite all the interventions out there to combat the issue, several studies suggest that face-to-face interventions such as video calls are more useful to improve loneliness.
By engaging with technology, older people can easily seek information, especially news and health information.
Older people who use technology are likely to be more alert, useful and tend to seek new skills and technology. They also form a community where people come together to mingle around, sharing the same hobbies so that they do not feel isolated.
Researchers and industry players have the responsibility to make technology friendlier to older people.
Dr Mohamad Hasif Jaafar is the manager of Research Management Centre while Dr Muhammad Hibatullah Romli is a senior lecturer at the Department of Nursing and Rehabilitation, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Perdana University Graduate School of Medicine. This article is courtesy of Perdana University. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.