Published: 20 May 2020 at 00:01
New Anglia Ruskin study investigates the online behaviour of older adults
New research has found that older adults who go online every day are more likely to be socially isolated than those who use the internet less frequently.
Published in the journal Ageing and Society, the researchers examined data from 4,492 adults in England, with an average age of 64. Overall, 19% reported high levels of loneliness and 33% were classified as socially isolated.
Led by academics from Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), the study found that older adults who went online occasionally (once a week or once a month) were less likely to be socially isolated than daily internet users, with daily users recording levels of social isolation similar to those who never went online.
Social isolation is an objective measure of a person’s social relationships, including the size and diversity of their social network, and the frequency of contact. The research, which took place before COVID-19 social distancing measures were introduced, found no link between internet use and loneliness.
Searching for information, sending emails and shopping were the three most common online activities, and over two thirds of those in the study (69%) reported using the internet every day. Those going online daily were more likely to use a smartphone, while laptops were preferred by less frequent users.
Lead author Stephanie Stockwell, a PhD student at the Cambridge Centre for Sport and Exercise Sciences at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), said:
Senior author Dr Lee Smith, Reader in Physical Activity and Public Health at ARU, said:
“One of the positive findings from our study is the suggestion that internet advertising and targeted emails could be used as an effective, low-cost way of delivering behaviour change interventions, such as physical activity or dietary advice, to otherwise socially isolated individuals. Indeed, this is a strategy that could be utilised during the current COVID-19 related social distancing.”
Stephanie is currently running a study looking at physical activity and the use of technology among people aged 50 and over, who are socially isolated. To take part, visit https://angliaruskin.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/dbci-pa-50
We've responded to the coronavirus pandemic by leading research projects into health, wellbeing and interventions. Read more about the work of our Covid-19 Research Group.
Reader in Physical Activity and Public Health at ARU, Dr Lee Smith, has been leading research on COVID-19's impact on behaviour and mental health. Read more about Dr Smith's COVID-19 and wellbeing research group.