Social Connectedness is a key aspect of our health, wellbeing and longevity especially for older adults.
A new study by Simionato et al (2023) highlights that older adults who remain socially connected without occurrences of isolation or loneliness, have lower rates of mental and chronic illnesses such as depression and cardiovascular disease.
However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that one in four older adults experience social isolation globally, which can be just as damaging to the health and wellbeing of older adults as smoking and obesity (Simionato et al 2023).
The good news is that social connectedness is on the global agenda in 2024 with WHO beginning a two year Commission on Social Connection across all ages and regions to ascertain the effect of loneliness and social isolation on our physical and mental health.
What is Social Connectedness?
Social Connectedness can be summarised as a feeling of belonging while having the support and care we need and want (National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion 2023).
For older Australians, a study by Shaping Connections researchers found that connectedness had additional meanings:
Getting information and keeping up-to-date
Keeping in touch with family and friends
Coordinating activities and events
Participating in and belonging to communities
Having access to products, services and experiences
The study found that digital technology was a significant driver and pathway to promote social connectedness and social inclusion in older adults which could ultimately hold the key to improved health and wellbeing outcomes in this demographic.
Double Edged Sword
However, barriers exist for older adults which the Shaping Connections team have coined a ‘Double Edged Sword’.
On one hand, older adults are willing to learn and add digital skills to their repertoire that enable them to live how they want and form supportive and rewarding relationships with their families and peers recognising that new technologies can help facilitate this.
On the other hand, they are faced with the challenge of adapting to global digital adoption which is a big contrast to digital natives of today who were born into a digital world. These challenges include risk perceptions that create barriers to digital adoption.
Impact of addressing barriers to digital adoption
Through analysis and co-design techniques, the Shaping Connections team have developed and co-created resources, strategies and tools to assist older adults and those that work with them, to overcome their fears by providing a platform to:
Gain confidence by listening to other people’s experiences.
Obtain exposure to easy to use strategies to overcome perceived digital technology risks.
Understand the best resource for seeking assistance that works for them such as family, friends, service providers, semi formal educational settings such as the local U3A, or even the internet.
Encouraging older adults and stakeholders to understand digital technology risk perceptions and the strategies to navigate and overcome them, will increase their likelihood of engaging with digital technology which in turn can increase their feeling of belonging and improve health and well being outcomes.
Learn more about the outcomes of the Shaping Connections research into Social Connectedness.
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