Technological Advances and the Elderly
Technological advances and increasing life expectancy create a situation where technology becomes embedded in the lives of the elderly in various ways. In March 2020, stay-at-home orders were put into place in Finland to reduce transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
The physical distancing recommendations were especially targeted to the elderly over 70 years old, with guidance to avoid social contacts outside the family. The social isolation caused by the restrictions increased the use of technology among the elderly, for example, as a venue to maintain contact with other people.
Based on semi-structured telephone interviews of 10 Finnish elderly gathered during spring 2021, we explored what kind of role Information and Communication Technology (ICT) had in maintaining their personal networks and social activity during the pandemic. The 10 interviewees (7 women and 3 men) were between 65 and 83 years old. They all lived independently in their homes, either alone or with a spouse. The interviews were analysed by using inductive content analysis.
The results show that ICT mitigated the experience of social isolation in multiple ways. Technological devices were used for communication, replacing face-to-face interaction. Moreover, interviewees became active on social media, creating blogs and online materials for their children and grandchildren. The interviewees also used different kinds of devices for entertainment purposes. In addition, they participated in various types of online courses and learnt to use the needed everyday devices.
The results highlight the importance of ICT in alleviating the social isolation of the elderly during the pandemic. As the pandemic restricted everyday life, it also provided the solitude to dwell in the digital world and learn to use it to maintain daily routines. Furthermore, due to the pandemic, the interviewees’ digital skills improved and expanded. This study highlights the importance of technology in promoting health, well-being and active ageing among the elderly.