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Virtual contact made older adults feel more alone

Older adults suffer disproportionately from the pandemic 4:29

. – When the Covid-19 pandemic swept the planet in early 2020, people around the world were confined to their homes, limited to talking to friends and loved ones on the phone or video chat.

But rather than helping ease isolation, this virtual contact was more likely to make older people feel lonely, according to the results of a study published Monday.

Researchers from the University of Lancaster, in the United Kingdom, and the University of British Columbia, in Canada, observed a “marked increase” in loneliness in the United States and a decrease in general mental well-being in the United Kingdom after the outbreak of covid-19.

The team collected data from 5,148 people aged 60 and over in the UK and 1,391 in the US, who were surveyed before and during the pandemic.

While regular face-to-face contact between households was associated with better mental well-being, virtual contact through telephones or digital means – through phone calls, text messages, online audio and video chats, and social media, did not was associated with better mental health in neither country.

The study found that older Americans who had more frequent virtual contact were more likely to feel lonely than those with infrequent face-to-face or virtual contact, especially when face-to-face contact was limited.

Older adults who had more regular in-person contact with friends and family throughout the pandemic had better mental well-being, but virtual interactions were not associated with better mental well-being in either country.

Dealing with technology can be stressful

“We found that face-to-face contact is essential to help maintain the mental well-being of older adults,” Yang Hu, senior professor of sociology and data science at Lancaster and an author of the paper, told CNN, noting that virtual contact does not it was “qualitatively equivalent”.

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“It is surprising that virtual contact is associated with greater loneliness and mental anguish than no contact, but again, it is not so surprising that a wide range of research has documented the digital burden, stress and rejection experienced by some in the aging population, “Hu explained.

“This has to do with a complex set of factors, such as digital access, device affordability, technological know-how and potential digital stress among the older population,” he added.

Hu said policy-making should focus on equipping older adults with the tools and knowledge to use digital products and protect them from stress and burnout.

While almost all (99%) adults aged 16-44 in the UK were recent internet users in the previous three months, just 54% of adults aged 75 and over classified themselves as such, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), citing data collected by the Labor Force Survey (LFS) between January and March 2020.

However, the proportion of people 75 and older who were recent internet users had almost doubled, from 29% in 2013, the ONS said.

“Older people are typically very resilient, but the disruption of daily life and forced isolation during the Coronavirus pandemic has hit some very severely,” said Caroline Abrahams, director of the charity Age UK, in a statement. .

“For older people who can use it, technology has been invaluable, helping them stay in touch with their loved ones and feel connected. However, social contact favors our well-being and helps avoid loneliness in old age. That is why Although digital technology has advanced and become increasingly sophisticated, it can never replace social interaction or human contact, “Abrahams added.

Previous research has shown that speaking by video conferencing with services like Zoom during the coronavirus pandemic helped older people avoid the effects of dementia.

Researchers at the Geller Institute for Aging and Memory at the University of West London found that regular communication helps maintain long-term memory, and that older people who often use online tools showed less memory impairment than those who They do not do it.

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