Jenna Roddick


Author(s) & Credentials: Jenna Roddick

Affiliated Institution(s): AGE-WELL National Innovation Hub APPTA Inc.

What inspired you to begin researching this area? Describe the main issue or challenge you intend to address with this project.

Social isolation and loneliness have been a common and emergent topic among jurisdictions, both within Canada as well as internationally. Older generations are particularly more likely to experience high risks of becoming socially isolated such as: life transitions, low income, personality and psychological responses, geographical location, etc. Moreover, particular segments of the population can be more at risk such as: caregivers, Indigenous peoples, newcomers, and LGBTQ groups. It is vital to understand who is at greater risk of becoming socially isolated or lonely and how that might impact their overall health. There is much evidence to show the negative health consequences of social isolation, especially with older adults who are more likely to be living with chronic conditions, mobility limitations, and other age-related declines. With this comes a two-fold effect of being socially isolated due to a condition or limitation, and thus experiencing declines in health due to being isolated and/or lonely. 

Briefly summarize your research project.

A scoping review was conducted to better understand how technologies have been used with the aim of reducing social isolation or loneliness in older adults. In a review of 28 eligible studies, a variety of technologies were shown as effective means to increase opportunities for communication, societal engagement and of course increased feelings of connectedness. The review found technologies that have been used as part of interventions can be categorized in four themes: video communications, computer or tablet programs, assistive technologies or devices, and telephone-based interventions. This work inspired the question of what barriers exist that might prevent older adults from adopting these kinds of technologies. A review found that a recurring barrier expressed within the literature was the cost of obtaining or servicing these technologies, especially for older adults on low- or fixed-income.  

Discuss some of the past, present, and/or intended future real-world applications of this research.

With this work, we aim to promote awareness among researchers, industry and policy-makers of particular technologies and interventions that can be used to help facilitate communication and engagement among not only older populations, but communities as a whole. One important highlight of these findings is the need to ensure that online/technology-based platforms or programs are supplemented with offline opportunities.

As we move into a space that looks for technology-based solutions which aim to innovate in such complex challenges such as social isolation, there are a few things to consider. Firstly, it is imperative that in every phase of design, development, implementation, etc. that we consider how these social technologies ultimately aim to support growing and connected communities. Secondly, the creation of appropriate and affordable technologies or platforms will reduce the barrier of cost, mainly for those living on low- or fixed-income. Lastly, user input from idea formulation to implementation can be a driver in creating a successful and sustainable product

If applicable, identify any important policy implications this research may have.

The purpose of this work was to understand the issue of social isolation and loneliness and how technology has played a role in reducing those experiences. In reflection, we have much further to go with supporting technology that has the aim of building and maintaining social and meaningful connections. One of the major barriers that impact a group of individuals who have already been identified as a higher risk for social isolation or loneliness is cost. Those living on low-income or fixed-income are already at a point of managing with little financial security and often consider the cost of a device, or internet subscription to support such devices, as a luxury. To realistically consider how governments play a role in supporting the adoption of these devices and services that can help facilitate social connections, our reviews helped inform the following policy recommendations:

1) Subsidize the cost of internet subscriptions for low-income older adults through existing programs such as rental supplements (include internet as a basic necessary expense).

2) Increase eligibility criteria for the connecting families initiative to provide low-income seniors receiving the Guaranteed Income Supplement with the low-cost internet of $10.00 CAD per month.  

3) Provide tax incentives for businesses (especially locally-based technology distributors more likely to be in more rural communities) to offer seniors assistance programs that include a seniors discount on devices and a set-up service.