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  • 2024balkiphd

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The mitigating role played by Digital Communication Technology (DCT) use by older adults on social isolation and loneliness, during the Covid-19 pandemic and affecting factors

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Publication date2024
Number of pages250
Awarding Institution
Award date19/01/2024
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Social-isolation and loneliness, both domains of social connectedness, are well-established health concerns for older adults. Simultaneously, Digital-communication technologies (DCT), are linked to lower loneliness, fewer chronic illnesses and depression. Yet, DCT uptake for connectedness in older adults remains low.

In March 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic became a severe health and socio-economic crisis for older adults, with social distancing exacerbated loneliness. An opportunity arose for exploration of factors impacting social connectedness and what was enhancing or impeding DCT use in older adults.

First, an umbrella review examined technology interventions for social connectedness in older adults to understand effectiveness, derivable themes, and any gaps. Results showed that Information Communication Technologies (ICT) and videoconferencing were most effective. An understanding of the predictors of loneliness and the interactive role played by technology was identified as a major gap.

Subsequent quantitative studies examined these predictors including social isolation, psychological resilience (PR) (Study 2), age-friendliness of environments (AFE), life-space mobility (LSM) (Study 3), Educational Attainment (EA) (Study 4), and their impact on technology use and loneliness. Using correlation, mediation and moderation analyses, hypotheses were investigated. PR and EA predicted greater technology use, and lower loneliness. Technology mediated the relationship between PR and loneliness but did not moderate the effect of social isolation. Technology moderated the impact of lockdowns and loneliness on perceptions of AFE.

A mixed-method study (Study 5) followed, using the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM). Elevated COVID-19 anxiety impacted acceptance. Five major themes emerged: perceived usefulness (PU), perceived ease-of-use (PEU), behavioural intentions (BI), pandemic (situational context), and privacy/security concerns. Certain DCT (like WhatsApp/Zoom) insulated adverse effects, whereas others (like Facebook/Meta) made it worse.

All results were combined proposing a new older adult DCT acceptance model. The PhD significantly advanced knowledge of DCT use and acceptance in older adults, providing a practical basis for intervention design for social connectedness.