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Tackling social isolation and seniors -- beyond email and phone calls

Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone’s family lived next door? Maybe. The reality is that people move. A lot. Out of California, in big numbers. Into Florida (from the Northeast) in big numbers.  In fact, 10% of the population moved in just one year, 2012-2013. And most Americans don’t move to be near family.  Which explains the vast numbers of people aged 80+ in retiree-attracting locations who have no family nearby.  One can speculate as to why, but likely the locations in which they settled, while great for recreation activities, may have limited job prospects or job growth. 

How about a virtual next door?   A new research report says nope. The author, Dr. Alan Teo, observes that face-to-face contact with family and friends results in a lower incidence of depression than phone or email.  (Texting and Skype usage were not mentioned or tracked in the study). Boomers reported that face-to-face contact with friends was enough to reduce depression; for older adults, what mattered was face-to-face contact with children and grandchildren. The difference: 6.5% incidence of depression for those who met with family and friends three times per week, versus 11.5% incidence of depression for those who met less frequently.

About social isolation -- this study raises more questions than answers.  The study does not factor in issues of estrangement from family. It does not tackle questions of whether aged 70+ older adults could or would be able to drive to visit relatives or friends. Most importantly, it does not seem to address the technology owned and available to the population aged 70+, whether the tracked individuals matched the 27% ownership that is typical tech usage by older adults, helping them to find social connections and/or activities where they lived. The study did not determine whether they would be able to Skype with long distance family.

Carriers and others may be a help. There are so many ways today to connect older adults into the world of their texting, Skyping and You-tubing relatives. In May, the FCC proposed lowering the cost of data plans for low income adults – perhaps as a result, Comcast offered Internet Essentials; AT&T also stepped up as part of its DirecTV negotiation. AARP TEK offers training workshops in multiple cities. Tablets can be purchased for under $100 now.  GreatCall is promoting its Jitterbug Touch Smartphone, and carriers are pushing smartphones over clamshell phones for anyone walking into a store. Hopefully those surveyed by the OHSU researchers have, by now, encountered one of these options.


The OHSU study of 11,000 older adults was enlightening: FACE-To-FACE contact is required to lower depression. Phone contact doesn't cut it! However, many seniors / disabled cannot use Skype or Facetime on an iPad / tablet / computer. Small screen, tiny buttons, software updates, too soft, too fiddly, quality-feedback pop-ups, stranger add-me requests, way too many features... Our own parents experienced this. Visiting "Gran" once a week is comforting but, according to this study, insufficient. So we invented a new product & service: Konnekt Videophone. One touch. Incredibly simple. Face-to-face without the travel. Trial results in... will post soon. Opinions?