A new study conducted by researchers from the Anglia Ruskin University showed that the frequent use of the internet in older adults for any purpose increases is associated with social isolation. More precisely, adults who go online every day of the week are more likely to have fewer social interactions than those who use the internet no more than twice or three per week.
These findings are important to know the rising levels of social isolation around the world at the moment especially now, during COVID-19 related social distancing policies and the possibility of a second lockdown.
The study, whose findings appear in the journal Ageing and Society, was conducted prior to the rise of the coronavirus infection pandemic but the researchers also added on how the effects of the health crisis may worsen the situation.
To investigate the association of social isolation, loneliness, and the daily use of the internet, the researchers examined data of four thousand, four hundred and ninety-two older adults. The average age of these adults was sixty-four.
It was found that nearly nineteen percent of the adults who used the internet and went online on a daily basis were socially isolated. Additionally, thirty-three percent of the adults also reported being very lonely.
One of the most surprising findings, according to the researchers, was that the levels of loneliness and social isolation in people who used the internet frequently were almost the same as observed in those who never use the internet for any purpose.
Some of the most common activities done online by the participants were sending or checking emails as well as shopping. Nearly sixty-nine percent or two-thirds of the adults reportedly engaged in such activities every day of the week.
The use of smartphones was more common in people who used the internet daily. On the other hand, laptops were not used that commonly and were preferred by those who did not go online that often in comparison.
Stephanie Stockwell, who is a Ph.D. student at the Cambridge Centre for Sport and Exercise Sciences at Anglia Ruskin University and leading author of the study, explained the findings, saying:
“Our findings suggest that older adults who reported using the internet weekly or monthly may have a better balance between their real-world and online contacts, and it’s possible that many in this category are simply too busy to go online every day.”
Stockwell also added that the team did not expect to note similar levels of loneliness and social isolation between older adults who used the internet frequently and those who did not use it at all.
One possible explanation, according to the team, maybe that many of the adults went online on a daily basis simply to combat being isolated or feeling lonely but instead of helping, the internet might have adverse effects and it may further reduce physical contact and socialization levels of the adults.
During the current ongoing coronavirus infection pandemic, there is a high possibility that the adults, as well as people in general, are using the internet more than ever as the majority of the countries have imposed social distancing and lockdowns. Even in the countries that have eased their restrictions, there are high chances of a second lockdown.
An increase in loneliness and social isolation during the health crisis can cause further issues including mental health problems like depression.
However, the team states that the good news is that all individuals can be reached via the internet and be prompted to adopt healthier changes to maintain physical health in quarantine and even given therapy or counseling for mental health problems.