Although the COVID-19 pandemic shook societal norms to their core, it’s no surprise that the lives of older adults were especially hard hit. As one of the most at-risk groups, older adults were faced with some of the earliest and strictest social isolation recommendations, which consequently increased their likelihood of exhibiting loneliness, depression, and anxiety. In light of these consequences, a team of researchers examined the impact of social connections formed through online learning wellness programs on feelings of social isolation among older adults.
Researchers focused on older adults who participated in two wellness programs that offered online community support: a South Florida regional health program that provides insurance to older adults and the Lifelong Learning Institute (LLI), a program affiliated with the Nova Southeastern University (NSU) that primarily services retired professionals. Both programs promote nutrition, exercise, and healthy life habits through education and wellness opportunities.
The survey was first distributed in May 2020 to members of the LLI program. It included 31 questions adopted from the Technology Acceptance Model, Wave 3 of the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project (NSHAP), and the Healthy Days Core Model. Out of 170 members, 127 completed the survey. In May 2021, a modified 21-question version of the survey was re-distributed to 1,035 members of both health programs. The modified survey additionally included questions about social isolation practices and vaccination statuses. A total of 211 members from both programs completed the second survey.
Data from the two surveys indicate that older adults who frequently engaged in connecting with others within the program online were more likely to keep their spirits up during COVID-19 and felt more connected to others. Additionally, those who felt comfortable using technology were 8.3 times less likely to feel lacking in companionship than their less tech-savvy counterparts. Researchers argue that organizations should continue to provide online programs for older adults because these opportunities can further benefit individuals who are homebound, reside in rural areas or assisted living programs, and may be unable to attend social engagement opportunities in person.
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