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Telephone or Tech - What’s the best method for keeping in touch with older people?

In today’s blog post, we’re looking at New Research from Auckland University’s faculty of Medical and Health Sciences about the influence of phone calls, texts, emails and video-calling on how some older people experience loneliness and isolation.

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According to the research, older people tend to prefer older technology – for example, their subjects liked phone calls better than video calling apps. Prior to the pandemic, researchers were investigating how older people could use technology to stay connected to loved ones. During lockdown, it became more important than ever to examine these solutions. So, according to the research, what works best?

The large-scale study was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and published in The Gerontologist, and was carried out by researchers from the Universities of Auckland, Swansea and Bangor, using data from nearly 3000 people over the age of 65 living in Wales, UK.

Taking into account their distance from relatives and the amount of face-to-face contact they received, the study found that phone calls, texts or emails reduced feelings of isolation for older people. The study revealed that the older examples of technology – telephone, texts and email – are now part of routine communication practices for older people. However, more recent technology like Zoom, Skype, etc, haven’t been prominent for long enough to come naturally to older people, and to reduce their feelings of isolation.

Gerontologist Professor Vanessa Burholt, further explains the findings, saying that there is an important difference between isolation and loneliness. Isolation is a lack of meaningful social contact, whereas loneliness is an emotional reaction to a mismatch between the relationships we expect and those that we have. “Our interpretation of these results is that communication through technology does not match up to older people’s expectations for family relationships in later life”, Burholt stated.

Ultimately, this research has shown that when face-to-face meetings aren’t an option, for the most part, a phone call is the best option for communicating with older family members. Ngā mihi nui.