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Technological advancements to address elderly loneliness: practical considerations and community resilience implications for COVID-19 pandemic

Kristina M. Conroy (Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA)
Srikripa Krishnan (Coronavirus Visualization Team, New York City, New York, USA)
Stacy Mittelstaedt (AgingNext, Claremont, California, USA)
Sonny S. Patel (Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health, Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA)

Working with Older People

ISSN: 1366-3666

Article publication date: 14 December 2020

Issue publication date: 14 December 2020

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Abstract

Purpose

Loneliness has been a known severe public health concern among the elderly population during the COVID-19 pandemic. This paper aims to discuss the practicalities of using emerging technologies to address elderly loneliness and its implications and adaptations to the outbreak of corona virus disease–2019.

Design/methodology/approach

The authors draw on examples from the literature and their own observations from working with older adults, to provide an overview of possible ways technology could help this population in the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Findings

Technological advancements have offered remarkable opportunities to deliver care and maintain connections despite the need to stay physically separated. These tools can be integrated into crisis communications, public health responses and care programs to address loneliness among the elderly. However, it must be done strategically and informed by the type of loneliness at play, environmental factors, socioeconomics and technological literacy.

Practical implications

Care-providing organizations and policymakers should consider the risk of loneliness while responding to COVID-19 outbreak, particularly within elderly populations. As a part of a broader plan, technological solutions and low-tech approaches can make a difference in mitigating loneliness. Solutions should be accessible to and usable by older adults. Provision of equipment, training and guidance may be necessary to execute a technology-centric plan; for some communities and individuals, approaches that do not rely on advanced technology may be more effective.

Originality/value

Technological advancements can be a valuable tool in addressing known public health concerns, such as loneliness among the elderly populations. However, the use of this tool should be governed by the specific situation at hand, taking into consideration individual needs and environmental factors, especially the compounded effects caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Different technological programs and approaches are appropriate for different types of loneliness. For example, online therapy such as internet-based cognitive behavior therapy may mitigate loneliness caused by fear and online interaction such as videoconferencing may relieve loneliness caused by lack of social engagement.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank Dr Aaron Clark-Ginsburg, Lucas Chu, Ben Wei, Krysia Lenzo and colleagues at Harvard University, Coronavirus Visualization Team, the COVID Foundation, Harvard in Tech and AgingNext for their contributions.Funding: Sonny S. Patel was supported by the Fogarty International Center and National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number D43 TW010543. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health or any institution.

Citation

Conroy, K.M., Krishnan, S., Mittelstaedt, S. and Patel, S.S. (2020), "Technological advancements to address elderly loneliness: practical considerations and community resilience implications for COVID-19 pandemic", Working with Older People, Vol. 24 No. 4, pp. 257-264. https://doi.org/10.1108/WWOP-07-2020-0036

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited

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