An Oxford BRC study has found that digital technology interventions are not effective for reducing loneliness in older adults.
From 4939 screened articles, the authors reviewed six research papers on digital technology interventions for loneliness in a systematic review and meta-analysis published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. The technologies included the use of apps, social media and computer programs to treat loneliness. The review looked at the effects of these interventions after 3-6 months and found no evidence that they were effective in reducing loneliness.
Rates of loneliness in the UK have increased since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the onset of lockdowns and social distancing. From October 2020 to February 2021, 7.2% of adults (about 3.7 million people) said that they felt lonely “often” or “always”.
Dr Vasiliki Kiparoglou, senior author of the paper said, “Our meta-analysis shows no evidence supporting the effectiveness of digital technology interventions in reducing loneliness in older adults. Future research may consider randomized controlled trials with larger sample sizes and longer durations of both the interventions and follow-ups.”
Recent studies have shown that loneliness during the pandemic is higher in adults who are single and/or living alone, as well as those who are in poor health. Lockdown loneliness has increased among young people and the elderly, while the rates of loneliness for people of black, Asian and minority ethnic origin have been higher than among white British people.
Dr Sarwar Shah, lead author of the paper, said, “Digital technologies can facilitate social connection which may help in reducing loneliness for a limited period, but the effects of these kinds of interventions are short-lived. We believe that they cannot replace human contact and therefore do not reduce long-term social disconnectedness in real life.” He suggested that, “Future research might also target ethnic minority communities and specific groups such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people where loneliness is common.”