COVID-19 has affected our lives, re-defined how we interact with family and friends, and changed the face of socialization forever. As much of the world re-enters society and gets back to work, COVID-19 remains an imminent threat to the elderly population, and much of the no-contact rules and regulations are taking a toll. In the United States today, approximately 14 million seniors are aging alone. While this is unfortunately commonplace, it is also a dangerous situation.
Even before the pandemic, the elderly population was at the highest risk for loneliness and isolation. A well-documented public health concern, long periods of isolation has been proven to place our aging adults at an increased risk of cardiovascular, autoimmune, cognitive, and mental health problems.
Chances are, we all know at least one elderly person who is facing the golden years of their lives alone. Maybe it’s a grandparent, or family friend, or the senior who lives in your neighborhood and recently lost a spouse. You might think about them during the holidays or say hello as you walk by their home, but what is happening to them the other days of the year?
Isolation in seniors leads to unhealthy habits like increased smoking or drinking, increased risk of Alzheimer’s, and abuse such as falling prey to financial scams. There are many reasons for seniors aging alone. Some experience a change in family or neighborhood dynamics, transportation challenges lead to social isolation, and some seniors are more likely to experience isolation if they don’t have children and build families.
Then came COVID-19 and forced isolation on nearly every population set outside the family unit. For younger adults in quarantine, there are plentiful options to socialize and remain connected. Video conferencing tools make staying in touch with friends and family easy, almost natural. Older adults face different challenges, and seniors are nearly left out of the technological advancements of social media. Many were born and raised before the advent of the Internet and often faced significant learning barriers, which prevent easy adoption of these same online platforms.
Seniors need more accessible ways to connect with friends and families online. And those who may not have any family or friends need more opportunities to easily meet new people and form new friendships outside of dating sites for elderly adults.
The same platforms and solutions that work for the younger generations need to be repurposed and simplified to meet the unique design needs of those who are older. There is a stark contrast between the digitally native young and senior adults. The gap couldn’t be more significant, but there is room to learn and grow. Young people adapt more easily to changes in technology. Of the retirees who were in professions that used technology, many are lost without the tech support their companies provided. And then there are the elderly that never had to use technology such as computers or smartphones and wouldn’t know what an app does.
While COVID-19 forces online interaction to replace face-to-face socialization entirely, it is becoming clear that creating the social activities of the past with new platforms of today can have substantial health and well-being benefits. We feel we’ve created something special and unique to bridge the gap for aging seniors and the benefits of online socialization.
OneClick.chat is a new platform that makes technology exciting for aging adults and is created to make video-based connections easy and accessible for senior adults. For those without a social network of friends or family, OneClick.chat facilitates the ability to meet new people and make new friends. The platform offers social and educational events, discussion groups, and peer support groups. To develop this platform, we consulted with the best in the business along with experts in human factors and aging to design a simplified, accessible platform requiring no downloads or complicated Meeting ID’s to join. Successful online tools for the elderly need to be inclusive, slowing those without dedicated devices, IT skills, or support to participate. The video chat option allows participants to interact with others, enjoy facial reactions, body language, and eye contact, which enhances feelings of connection.
The nation’s aging population living alone or in nursing homes and senior living facilities were already at risk for the complications of social isolation long before COVID-19 became a household name. The pandemic has intensified and magnified the problem. Developing real solutions to meet this challenge for the elderly needs to be a priority even after life has returned to normal for the rest of the world.