Background: Older adults are at increased risk of experiencing loneliness and depression, particularly as they move into different types of care communities. Information and communication technology (ICT) usage may help older adults to maintain contact with social ties. However, prior research is not consistent about whether ICT use increases or decreases isolation and loneliness among older adults.
Objective: The purpose of this study was to examine how Internet use affects perceived social isolation and loneliness of older adults in assisted and independent living communities. We also examined the perceptions of how Internet use affects communication and social interaction.
Methods: One wave of data from an ongoing study of ICT usage among older adults in assisted and independent living communities in Alabama was used. Regression analysis was used to determine the relationship between frequency of going online and isolation and loneliness (n=205) and perceptions of the effects of Internet use on communication and social interaction (n=60).
Results: After controlling for the number of friends and family, physical/emotional social limitations, age, and study arm, a 1-point increase in the frequency of going online was associated with a 0.147-point decrease in loneliness scores (P=.005). Going online was not associated with perceived social isolation (P=.14). Among the measures of perception of the social effects of the Internet, each 1-point increase in the frequency of going online was associated with an increase in agreement that using the Internet had: (1) made it easier to reach people (b=0.508, P<.001), (2) contributed to the ability to stay in touch (b=0.516, P<.001), (3) made it easier to meet new people (b=0.297, P=.01, (4) increased the quantity of communication with others (b=0.306, P=.01), (5) made the respondent feel less isolated (b=0.491, P<.001), (6) helped the respondent feel more connected to friends and family (b=0.392, P=.001), and (7) increased the quality of communication with others (b=0.289, P=.01).
Conclusions: Using the Internet may be beneficial for decreasing loneliness and increasing social contact among older adults in assisted and independent living communities.