Social networking may prove key to overcoming isolation of older adults

18 May 2011

The University of Sydney is leading an investigation into the usage of information and communications technology (ICT) by older Australians and the potential of media such as social networks and other ICTs to combat social isolation and increase the engagement of seniors in the community.

Prof Robert Steele
Prof Robert Steele


"Advances in medical and assistive technologies, along with developments which assist older adults to age-in-place in their own home imply that not just poor health but also social isolation are challenges that need to be addressed for overall healthy ageing," suggests project lead, Professor Robert Steele, Chair of Health Informatics.

"With the proportion of people aged over 65 predicted to double over the next 40 years, it's essential that we examine ways we can support and enable older adults to live "interdependently"."

The multi-disciplinary research team, drawn from across the disciplines of health informatics, ageing, community health and occupational therapy, believe that ICT's ability to facilitate new modes of social interaction may be the answer.

The study will ascertain current levels of technology usage of seniors and baby boomers before giving participants an introduction to social networking technologies including Facebook, Instant Messaging, Skype and Twitter. It will also include up-skilling in common technological devices such as mobile phones and mp3 players.

Focus groups, diaries and other qualitative methods, including data generated by social networking will then be used to document and analyse the experience of participants.

The influence of variables such as age, gender, ethnic and cultural background, working status and level of independence or disability will also be taken into account.

As the first major study of its kind, it's hard to predict specific aspects of the adoption of ICT and the impact increased exposure will have on older Australians.

"Potentially we might see that using these types of technologies might assist older adults to further engage in an active role in society for a longer period of time," says Professor Steele.

"This could translate to participation in clubs or volunteering for community activities. Such activities can provide an important way for those wishing to, to maintain a healthy social network as they age."

The collaborative project, funded under the NSW government Office of Ageing, Applied Research Grant program will bring together a consortium of leading researchers from the University of Sydney's Faculty of Health Sciences and the peak NSW community bodies for technology and older adults.

Ms Nan Bosler, President of the Australian Seniors Computer Clubs Association, a human services non-government organisation member of the project, indicates "The project promises to be an exciting collaboration between the university and the lead community groups".

The study will commence in June 2011 and run over two years.

Interview contacts:

Robert Steele, Professor and Chair of Health Informatics on 9036 7368 or email