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Sharp Health News

Top gadgets to reduce loneliness in older adults

Feb. 16, 2022

Man using tablet

Life can get busy with working, caring for children and running errands. It can become easy to forget the last time you checked in with the older adults in your life, such as family members, neighbors or senior acquaintances.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, many older adults are struggling with loneliness, as nearly one-third live by themselves — that’s close to 14 million people. Life events, such as losing family and friends, and hearing and memory loss, put older adults at higher risk of isolation.

Loneliness and social isolation in older adults have been linked to serious health conditions. And as the pandemic continues, the persistent lack of connectivity can impact their mental health and well-being.

“Isolation of older adults is dangerous for many reasons, especially when it comes to mental health,” says Dan McNamara, program coordinator for the Senior Resource Centers at Sharp Grossmont Hospital. “People are social by nature. We have to remember that older adults are people too.”

Gadgets to stay connected
Relationships are important to everyone, as they can make a difference in happiness, physical health and lowering stress. Fortunately, some popular devices can help you stay close and connected with the older adults in your life when you are unable to be together in person. These include:

Smartphones or tablets — While many of us associate smartphones and tablets with younger people, older adults also recognize the benefits of these convenient communication tools. According to the Pew Research Center, 61% of people over age 65 use smartphones. Family and friends can share special moments by uploading photos and videos, as well as stay in touch through video chats.

Virtual reality — Seniors around the world are using virtual reality to help reduce loneliness and improve their mental health. Virtual reality tools can transport them to different places without leaving the comfort of home. The virtual reality experience also allows older adults to enjoy adventures with friends who live in another part of the country. They can enjoy experiences that may no longer be physically possible, such as riding a roller coaster, visiting a place they have never been to, or taking a trip down memory lane to their favorite places.

Robotics — Hearing the word “robots” may take an older adult back to Will Robinson’s adventures in “Lost in Space.” As seniors encounter social isolation and loneliness, many are rethinking the role of robotics in improving their mental health. Artificial intelligence, or AI, can be used to create a digital home companion for older adults that can respond to questions, initiate calls, monitor and analyze the person’s environment, as well as provide entertainment and emotional enrichment activities — effectively serving as a virtual personal assistant.

Monitoring systems — According to the National Council on Aging, over 80% of older adults have at least one chronic disease. Add to this list other common age-related issues, such as risk of falls, heart disease, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease, and monitoring systems can provide an extra sense of security. In the event of an emergency, these systems can receive alerts via a phone app. Some monitoring systems even include sensors that allow conversations with the person while they are being monitored.

Continued need for technology solutions
The demand for more solutions to minimize isolation among older adults will only grow as the number of people age 65 and older — as well as the number of adults living alone — increases. According to the Census Bureau, by 2034, there will be 77 million people age 65 and older, and just 76.5 million people under age 18. If the projections are correct, this will be the first time in U.S. history that older people will outnumber children.

However, according to McNamara, using technology might help us gain an advantage in caring for the increased number of older loved ones. “Whether that means a short visit on a video call or using a camera system as a second set of eyes and ears, we can show love to our older adults in a variety of ways. Connecting with them is one of the absolute best,” he says.

Learn more about resources provided by Sharp HealthCare's Senior Resource Centers.

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