Loneliness and social isolation among older adults are prevalent across the United States and can often lead to serious health risks. It’s estimated that more than 40 percent of seniors regularly experience loneliness and social isolation is associated with a 50 percent increased risk of dementia.
Many of us have gotten used to communicating with our loved ones over popular platforms like Zoom, Google Meet or Microsoft Teams. There's promising research to suggest that using these technologies to stay connected can stave off loneliness while simultaneously providing an avenue toward dementia prevention.
How Technology Can Prevent Dementia
The COVID-19 pandemic forced us into unprecedented times where we were faced with total isolation. Modern technology was our only means of connecting with those that were outside of our bubble. As a result, older adults that would normally shy away from these technologies ventured into the world of social media and video communication interfaces, whether it was to read their grandchild a book over Zoom or check up with their friends and loved ones over social media. It turns out that there’s more advantages to these technologies than what just meets the eye.
New research suggests that older adults that use online communication alongside face-to-face interactions show a slower decline in episodic memory (our ability to recall meaningful events throughout our lives that begins to decline as we age). Research led by the University of West London’s Geller Institute of Ageing and Memory found that adults aged 50 to 90 whose primary communication was face-to-face and telephone interactions had a steeper memory decline than those that also participated in social interaction online during a 15-year period.
“This shows for the first time the impact of diverse, frequent and meaningful interactions on long-term memory, and specifically, how supplementing more traditional methods with online social activity may achieve that among older adults,” according to Snorri Rafnsson, an associate professor of ageing and dementia care at the Geller Institute.
How Assistive Technology Can Improve Dementia Care
Aside from using modern technology to help stave off dementia, caregivers who are trying to relieve some pressure and seniors already suffering from dementia can reap the benefits of assistive technology. This type of technology refers to any device that may help maintain or improve someone’s quality of life. Assistive technology for dementia care can include anything from floor cleaning robots to automatic pill dispensers and locator devices. Benefits from this technology may include:
-Increased independence and a sense of control
-Improved quality of life
-The ability to remain at home
-A reduced burden placed on caregivers
-Reduced accidents and falls at home
Although learning how to incorporate new technologies can be intimidating for older adults, it’s important to remember that through the use of these platforms seniors can enhance the ability to protect themselves from dementia.
So explore the world of social media or start a book club on Zoom. Who knew that over the past year all of our online interactions have had a positive impact on our cognitive functions? Keep it up, because the more platforms that can be mastered, the better.