Researchers are exploring the use of laptop and table computers to enhance the social connectedness of older adults in rural South Australia. The researchers are interested in the intersection of three sociological trends: population aging, the ongoing urbanization of the world’s populations, and the increasing use of computer technology as a medium of communication. A report of their ongoing study can be viewed at the website of The Journal of Community Informatics.
The first two phases of their study involved a large survey, followed by 201 in-depth interviews, with older adults living in relatively isolated and low-resource areas of the state. This provided information about the social networks of older adults in the region, as well as their views of technology. This led to the current phase of the study, in which 48 older adult participants are provided with either a laptop or tablet computer. Participants are provided with personalized training on basic computer use and the use of their computer for social connections (such as using Facebook or Skype™), either one-to-one or in small groups.
Future analysis will examine the effectiveness of the training, but the authors include case reports in the current publication. The case reports suggest that this is a feasible and potentially very useful intervention, with participants surpassing their expectations in terms of how effective and useful their computer use would be. The case vignettes include examples of participants re-connecting with families in other parts of the world, meeting new grandchildren via Skype, and using the internet to access services and manage retirement savings. The development of high-speed internet connections in rural areas, paired with computer and internet training for older adults, may be very useful for the social connectedness of rural older adults.