Research has demonstrated social isolation can lead to a number of health and well-being issues including loneliness, depression, and low self-esteem. With an ageing population and people living longer, the levels of social isolation are likely to increase for this age group. Governments have recognised the challenges from demographic change and ageing and, in many instances, regions have developed strategies to reduce older adult isolation.
COVID-19 has presented many social and economic challenges for countries globally. Citizens have had to modify their behaviour in order to help contain the virus and restrict its spread. Elderly citizens had to take more serious measures to protect themselves including socially isolating and shielding. At one stroke, the public health policies introduced to respond to and manage COVID-19 placed an increased number of older citizens at risk of social isolation and with potential impending consequences for their health and well-being.
Regional governments were proactive during this period in developing and implementing plans and initiatives to reduce elderly citizens’ social isolation. A range of initiatives and actions were introduced including:
Home care and support services,
Community engagement initiatives, and
Digital technology, including telecare services and eConsultations.
Although these initiatives may have contributed to helping elderly citizens stay connected and integrated with their families and communities, while continuing to lead independent, active lives, the benefits and impacts from them are not easily measured. Since this study was undertaken during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, in many cases the digital solutions had not been embedded long enough to draw any real conclusions.
Whilst the results of the survey demonstrate the feasibility of using technology for establishing and maintaining social connections, the absence of detailed quantitative or qualitative data on its benefits and impact means it is still unclear how digital technology is actually used; what its limitations are and the opportunities that exist; and what this means for the long-term success and scaling up of digital technologies to reduce social isolation. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues into a second wave, and is still likely to be with us in 2021, studies, such as this one, will need to be repeated to develop a complete understanding of the actual benefits and the extent to which digital technologies contribute to reducing the social isolation of elderly citizens.
Find the study below.