Beermann, Christian (1); Neves, Barbara Barbosa (1,2); Baecker, Ron (1)
1: University of Toronto, TAGlab, Canada; 2: CAPP, University of Lisbon, Portugal
Social isolation and loneliness are emerging risks for older adults, mainly for those institutionalized, frail, or living alone. Social isolation and loneliness predict a variety of health problems (e.g., cognitive and function decline, depression, and morbidity) and even mortality among this population. They also predict social disengagement and low levels of public participation. Research and policy suggest that increasing opportunities for social interaction and the use of new technologies can inform positive initiatives to tackle this issue. So in an action research approach, we developed an accessible software application called InTouch. InTouch supports asynchronous communication with family members and friends, using a non-language specific interface based on icons. As it was developed for older adults with dexterity problems resulting from motor impairments, no typing is required. To test the adoption and feasibility of InTouch to increase social connectedness and reduce the risk of social isolation and loneliness among frail older adults, we conducted two-month deployment studies in a retirement community (n=1) and in a long-term care facility (n=4, 80+ years old) in Toronto, Canada. These pilot studies included semi-structured interviews, field observations, and questionnaires. Drawing on Rob Stones’ strong structuration theory, we examined factors that facilitate and hinder adoption of InTouch but also its feasibility to combat social isolation and loneliness. Findings show that adoption of new communication technologies among institutionalized frail older adults is a complex interplay of social, cultural, physical, and usability factors. Factors that we are further exploring in a new study of 15 institutionalized older adults and will report herein.