A new study from Anglia Ruskin University has linked frequent internet use to social isolation. The researchers found that older adults who use the internet on a daily basis are more reclusive than those who do not go online as often.
The study was focused on data from 4,492 adults in England with an average age of 64. Overall, 33 percent of the individuals were classified as being socially isolated and 19 percent reported high levels of loneliness. Interestingly, the researchers did not find a link between internet use and loneliness.
According to the analysis, older adults who went online once a week or once a month were less likely to be socially isolated than daily internet users. The study also showed that the most frequent internet users reported levels of social isolation similar to adults who never went online.
Social isolation is a measure of interactions between an individual and society, including the size and diversity of the person’s social network and the frequency of contact.
“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,” said study lead author Stephanie Stockwell.
“We were surprised that daily internet users recorded similar levels of social isolation as those who never use the internet. It might be that many of these people go online to combat their social isolation,” said Stockwell.
“Alternatively, going online more frequently might actually cause greater social isolation among some older adults as they reduce their physical contacts.”
The research took place before social distancing measures were introduced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Older adults with access to the internet are likely to be using it much more often at the moment due to COVID-19 social distancing restrictions, but our findings indicate this is unlikely to improve levels of social isolation,” said Stockwell.
Nearly 70 percent of the adults examined for the research reported using the internet every day. The most common online activities were searching for information, sending emails, and shopping.
“One of the positive findings from our study is the suggestion that internet advertising and targeted emails could be used as an effective, low-cost way of delivering behavior change interventions, such as physical activity or dietary advice, to otherwise socially isolated individuals,” noted senior author Dr. Lee Smith. “Indeed, this is a strategy that could be utilized during the current COVID-19 related social distancing.”
The study is published in the journal Ageing & Society.
By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com Staff Writer