Background: In the last decades, the relationship between social networking sites (SNSs) and older people's loneliness is gaining specific relevance. Studies in this field are often based on qualitative methods to study in-depth self-perceived issues, including loneliness and well-being, or quantitative surveys to report the links between information and communication technologies (ICTs) and older people's well-being or loneliness. However, these nonexperimental methods are unable to deeply analyze the causal relationship. Moreover, the research on older people's SNS use is still scant, especially regarding its impact on health and well-being. In recent years, the existing review studies have separately focused their attention on loneliness and social isolation of older people or on the use of ICTs and SNSs in elderly populations without addressing the relationship between the former and the latter. This thorough qualitative review provides an analysis of research performed using an experimental or quasi-experimental design that investigates the causal effect of ICT and SNS use on elderly people's well-being related to loneliness.
Objective: The aims of this review are to contrast and compare research designs (sampling and recruitment, evaluation tools, interventions) and the findings of these studies and highlight their limitations.
Methods: Using an approach that integrates the methodological framework for scoping studies and the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines for systematic reviews, we identified 11 articles that met our inclusion criteria. A thematic and content analysis was performed based on the ex post categorization of the data on the selected studies, and the data were summarized in tables.
Results: The analysis of the selected articles showed that: (1) ICT use is positively but weakly related to the different measures of older people's well-being and loneliness, (2) overall, the studies under review lack a sound experimental design, (3) the main limitations of these studies lie in the lack of rigor in the sampling method and in the recruitment strategy.
Conclusions: The analysis of the reviewed studies confirms the existence of a beneficial effect of ICT use on the well-being of older people in terms of reduced loneliness. However, the causal relationship is often found to be weak. This review highlights the need to study these issues further with adequate methodological rigor.
Keywords: ICTs; aging; loneliness; older people’s well-being; review; social network sites.
©Georgia Casanova, Daniele Zaccaria, Elena Rolandi, Antonio Guaita. Originally published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (http://www.jmir.org), 01.03.2021.