Exploring the impact of using a private social network on independent living residents' social isolation and loneliness
Older adults are often on the wrong side of the digital divide. However, recent Pew surveys suggest that they may be closing the gap. Fifty-nine percent of adults over 65-years-of-age are online. Computer use by older adults is of interest because it has been shown to be associated with lower rates of isolation, loneliness and depression (Cotten, et al., 2013, 2014). This descriptive and exploratory study involved a small number of independent living (IL) residents residing in two continuing care retirement communities (CCRC). The purposes of this pilot study were to explore if (a) IL residents wanted to have more social communication with family members and old friends; (b) providing IL residents with an easy-to-use private social network encouraged them to use computers for social communication; and (c) using computers for social communication led to decreased isolation and loneliness, and improved quality of life. Participants were either non-computer users or had limited computer experience, and were trained to use a private social network called KeepInTouch (KIT). The pilot testing of this KIT intervention was implemented by using a quasi-experimental, waitlist control design in two IL sites, Newton and Wichita PMs. Results showed most of participants (71%) expressed desire for more social communication with family members; and used the KIT system to communicate with family, friends and others. Most of the members of residents' KIT networks were family members (65%). Majority (78%) of the members of the participants' KIT networks lived in the same state. Results also showed that participants were not lonely and socially isolated, but their loneliness and isolation scores decreased 6 months after the KIT intervention and use. The findings also showed that loneliness scores at one site significantly reduced after the KIT intervention. The results suggest that the method of providing private social networks may be effective in encouraging IL residents to use computers for social communication. Data also suggest that simplified private social networks are useful for older adults with little computer experience.