Seniors Can Use the Internet to Ease Loneliness


Loneliness and feelings of isolation can be very difficult emotions for anyone to handle. But for some, these feelings can be detrimental to our health, or even deadly. Studies in the National Library of Medicine have found that those who feel lonely can see higher rates of depression, heart disease, cognitive decline, high blood pressure, obesity, anxiety, a weakened immune system, and even a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease and death. That makes loneliness potentially dangerous to the 27% of older adults in the United States who live alone[1].

When someone feels as though they are engaging in meaningful or productive activities with others, they tend to live longer, have a better overall mood, and feel a sense of purpose, which in turn improves their well-being and might even improve their cognitive function, according to the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science. But how can seniors or elderly adults engage in meaningful activities with others if they are housebound, have very limited mobility, or no one around to simply spend time with?

That’s where the internet comes in.

Today’s seniors are increasingly adopting new technologies. Many elderly adults are already using significant technology in their day-to-day lives, such as opting for health trackers, medical alert devices, and a variety of medical technologies, such as glucose monitors and even insulin pumps. When it comes to communication technology, about 61% of those aged 65 and older have a smartphone, while 83% of those aged 50 to 64 do; 44% of those 65 and older have a tablet, which is actually on a par with the 46% of young adults (aged 18 to 29) who own one[2]. In a Pew Research Center survey, about 45% of older adults reported using social media and 75% of those aged 65 and older use the internet in general.

The internet is obviously a huge potential pathway for individuals to reach out to others. Studies have found that going online was associated with a drop in loneliness. It increases social contact by allowing seniors to meet new people, stay in touch with those they already know, and feel less isolated from friends and family[3].

Reaching Out to Combat Loneliness

There are many online platforms that provide a way for seniors to connect with local individuals in their area and make connections. For instance, Generation Tech pairs up seniors with teenagers who can help them learn to use internet technology, and the Mon Ami Companions app offers college kids the opportunity to volunteer to help seniors with a variety of things.

For those who are housebound or simply don’t want to set up meetings in person, Eldera is a good option – it connects kids with seniors who can provide them with wisdom, guidance, or simply someone to talk to. That helps not only the youngsters who can benefit from the interaction, but it can give the elderly a true sense of purpose. Big & Mini is another video app that does something quite similar.

To keep in touch with friends and family, there are many video options, such as Zoom or FaceTime. These programs allow anyone to reach out to their contacts with a few clicks. Though it might take some time to learn how to use these options, they are designed to provide a seamless transition to seeing your loved ones in real time. This can be a great way to keep younger kids connected to their grandparents, even if they are on the other side of the country.

Some seniors might find that online dating sites and chat rooms are a way to find new love after the loss of a spouse or partner. There are many reputable, online dating sites that cater specifically to seniors. These sites often provide an opportunity to not only connect via texting and email, but also through voice chat and video chat with a potential suitor.

For entertainment and learning, seniors might visit message boards that focus on their hobbies or interests, or those that are entertaining in general, such as the ever-popular Reddit. Though discussion boards like this might seem like the Wild West of the internet, there are some quite enjoyable forums (called subreddits) that are great for seniors, such as Reddit for Grownups, Aging Positive, or Nostalgia.

But Beware of Vulnerabilities

But with all the wonderful things the internet can bring, it can also bring scams and fraud. Many of these scams that specifically target seniors will involve the “opportunity” to get prescription drugs at a more affordable price, insurance at a lower cost, or the promise of new or improved products that the person pays for but never receives.

Why do so many seniors fall for internet scams? A lack of familiarity with the internet is one big reason. The more someone uses the internet and learns to navigate it, the less likely they will be to fall for scams and fraud. Seniors who have recently lost a spouse or partner might be feeling lonely enough to become a victim of scammers who target lonely seniors for “romance” and wind up asking them to send money. Not being tech-savvy in general can also be a problem – no matter the age – as it can be tough to know if a pop-up or email that says you need to update your computer is real or fake.

Staying aware of these vulnerabilities is important. As mentioned earlier, many lonely seniors have been the targets of romance scams, where someone claims to be interested in them or even love them, but they have an ulterior motive. That motive usually involves taking as much money as they can before they end the “relationship” with the person they swindled.

Someone who is aware of the potential pitfalls of reaching out via the internet is already ahead of the game, as they know to watch out for a variety of issues.

How to Stay Safe When Reaching Out

There are many ways to stay safe online even while building friendships and engaging in discussions. Here are some of the key points to remember for internet safety, for you and for your loved ones.

·         Beware of giving access. If someone ever asks for passwords, bank account information, social security number, or remote access to your computer, say no and immediately end the conversation.

·         Don’t automatically trust. Trust is earned in your day-to-day life, and the same should be true for online interactions. It can be tough to judge character when talking with someone online, so take your time and be very careful with who you let into your inner social circle.

·         Don’t believe everything you read. The internet is a bottomless well of information, which can be a delightful thing. But it can also be a frightening thing, especially since so much of that information out there is not verifiable. When going online and looking for information, such as finding out more about medical alert technology or COVID-19 vaccines or even how to fix a dishwasher, make sure you are reading information from reputable sites. A good rule of thumb is to look for sites that end in .gov, .org, or .edu.

·         Cut off bullies. Cyberbullying is a very real problem, and seniors can often be the target, especially on social media. This can include threats, accusations, condescending comments, or ignoring a person. If something is happening that you wouldn’t tolerate in person, don’t tolerate it online.

·         Take it slow. When looking into online dating, remember that predators are out there. Take your sweet time in getting to know someone. If they push to meet or to get personal information quickly, stay strong in saying no and recognize that they might not have your best interests at heart.

·         If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. For instance, if a company promises you a free medical alarm for a year, that’s too good to be true – that simply doesn’t happen. However, a company that offers you a discount for a few months might be quite legitimate. To be sure, only shop at well-established online merchants, like Alert1.

·         Reach out for help. If you aren’t sure about how to handle a situation you’ve encountered online, reach out to someone you trust, such as a family member or close friend. You will often find that your gut feeling was absolutely right, and that you stumbled upon a scam, someone trying to swindle you, or someone who is just after money.

While the internet may not be perfect, the advantages of reaching out to others to dispel loneliness will almost always outweigh the negatives. Not only can that improve quality of life, but it can also provide you with the opportunity to check on loved ones through video chat, online voice calls, or simply through social media platforms, like Facebook or Twitter. This connection via the internet can add to peace of mind for everyone and allow seniors to find a whole new world of interaction and connection.

As always, Alert1 wishes you health and safety!