In Australia, 50% of people over 61 experience loneliness and 26 to 29% are chronically lonely. Loneliness is associated with higher stress ratings, an increased risk of cardiac deaths, depression, reduced movement and other psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia. Depression alone results in up to a 50% increase in general medical expenses with the lonely reporting their health as twice as bad as those who are not lonely. However an increase in social relationships is associated with significant benefits to lonely people and these benefits include being healthier and living longer. The foundation of this research is a push to familiarise young-old (65-85) with technology that will facilitate social connections as they age. This research targeted members of the University of the Third Age who already owned a tablet and were prepared to install and use Skype and DropBox. This research mirrored research that is being carried out in India by collaborators. Participants who had high levels of skill were asked to be peer team leaders and given around 10 people to look after. The participants were then phoned and asked to complete a questionnaire on their attitudes and experiences using the software, while the team leaders were interviewed in person about their experiences. A large number of participants were already familiar with and using some kind of electronic communication software to talk with friends and family with Apple’s Facetime proving a popular alternative. While DropBox proved more difficult with participants finding understanding of its mechanisms and usefulness challenging. The team leaders found that participants were slow to contact them preferring to drop out of the research if they found it difficult. This research acts as a pilot for further research into assistive technologies both in Australia and India.
2015 University Research Conference: Integrate, Innovate, Inspire, Sunshine Coast, Australia 13-16 July 2015