Online sharing reduces loneliness among the aged

Online sharing reduces loneliness among the aged

Sharing photos online using iPads can reduce loneliness in elderly people who are socially isolated, a new study has found.

Researchers at Melbourne University believe the trial is among the first to assess how technology can ease social isolation in Australia’s ageing population.

The university’s Institute for a Broadband-Enabled Society created an iPad app that allowed a small group of people aged in their 80s and 90s to chat online and share photos.

Computing and information systems associate professor Frank Vetere said the study produced promising results with some participants forming relationships in the real world.

‘‘As a result of being in the study some of them have become good friends,’’ he said.

Professor Vetere said the study revealed that social media and technology could play a bigger role in alleviating loneliness once the national broadband network is extended into Australian homes and provides better internet access.

But developing technology that is easy to use will be key to tackling social isolation among elderly people, Professor Vetere said.

Trialling the technology with a small group allowed the researchers to focus on ensuring the Enmesh app was simple to operate and required minimal training. The institute will extend the trial next year.

The app allowed the users to upload messages and photographs that everyone in the group could see. Researchers interviewed the participants and care managers three times during the 10-week trial. The participants had health and mobility problems but still lived at home.

One man said he had a ‘‘very bad time of depression’’ but sharing photos had made a big difference. The group met in person three times during the trial.

The study also found some participants struggled to think of messages and photographs they thought would be interesting to the other users. They were allowed to keep the iPads after the trial ended.

‘‘From all reports they’re enjoying their iPad experience,’’ Professor Vetere said.

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