September 19, 2021

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Virtual Contact Worse Than No Contact For Over-60s In Lockdown, Says Study

Virtual Contact Worse Than No Contact For Over-60s In Lockdown, Says Study

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Virtual contact during the pandemic made many over-60s feel lonelier and more depressed than no contact at all, new research has found. Many older people stayed in touch with family and friends during lockdown using the phone, video calls, and other forms of virtual contact. Zoom choirs, online book clubs and virtual bedtime stories with grandchildren helped many stave off isolation. But the study, among the first to comparatively assess social interactions across households and mental wellbeing during the pandemic, found many older people experienced a greater increase in loneliness and long-term mental health disorders as a result of the switch to online socializing than those who spent the pandemic on their own.

The problem [said Dr Yang Hu of Lancaster University, who co-wrote the report, published on Monday in Frontiers in Sociology] was that older people unfamiliar with technology found it stressful to learn how to use it. But even those who were familiar with technology often found the extensive use of the medium over lockdown so stressful that it was more damaging to their mental health than simply coping with isolation and loneliness. “Extensive exposure to digital means of communication can also cause burnout. The results are very consistent,” said Hu, who collected data from 5,148 people aged 60 or over in the UK and 1,391 in the US — both before and during the pandemic. “It’s not only loneliness that was made worse by virtual contact, but general mental health: these people were more depressed, more isolated and felt more unhappy as a direct result of their use of virtual contact,” he said. “We need to have disaster preparedness,” he said. “We need to equip older people with the digital capacity to be able to use technology for the next time a disaster like this comes around.” Hu added: “Policymakers and practitioners need to take measures to pre-empt and mitigate the potential unintended implications of household-centerd pandemic responses for mental wellbeing.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.