Loneliness has been getting a lot of attention lately. Quarantine lockdowns have made an existing problem much, much worse. Older adults are especially at risk for suffering from loneliness -- not to mention those in care facilities. This is especially true for those who have lost their spouse or partner, who don’t have an existing network of friends, and who live far from their families.
While there really is no substitute for in-person contact, we can fend off the worst effects of loneliness by using mobile apps and online communities. Once quarantine regulations are lifted, many of these online connections will enhance our in-person relationships.
Social media apps may be the most obvious choice. Some of the biggest platforms are Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. On each of these platforms, you can choose to connect only with people you know in real life. Or, if you like, branch out and connect with people over shared interests.
On Facebook, you can reconnect with old friends from high school, college, or from a previous job. You can also join groups; those can be super engaging. Some will be organized around a common interest or hobby. Find other knitters, woodworkers, or board game enthusiasts. Groups often have fun and lively discussions.
Another good thing about Facebook is that you can find local groups. You might not be able to gather much in person at the moment, but you can have online discussions, and share ideas and local knowledge.
Instagram shines when it comes to beautiful photography. There are lots of artists with large public accounts. It can also be fun to follow friends and family members who post snapshots of daily life. You can comment on posts to start a conversation and connect with friends.
Both Facebook and Instagram have the option for people to go “live.” This means people put up videos in real-time. Many churches and religious organizations are livestreaming their services. Other groups might offer seminars or lectures this way. You can usually type comments and questions in the chatbox below the video, which allows for interaction between the speaker and audience.
Twitter is another good way to keep in touch with both friends and the outside world. You can follow journalists to get their take on current events, as well as keeping up with the lives of friends and family. (Hey we know you binge-watch 90 Day Fiancé; there’s no shame in joining the Twitter conversation about that.)
NextDoor is a great app to keep up with local news and events. Lots of neighborhoods throughout the US have hubs that residents can join for free. You can follow posts in several topics, including news, safety, travel, and just for fun. (Which river cruise are you going on next?)
Zoom has become the go-to app for online video conferencing. Many people use it for work or to get in touch with their doctors. However, with a free account, you can invite friends and family to join either a one-on-one or group video call. It’s great to see people’s faces in real-time and be able to laugh with one another. This has even helped care facility residents connect with family members.
“The SoW [Skype On Wheels] intervention, or something similar, could aid older people to stay better connected with their families in care environments, but if implemented as part of a rigorous evaluation, then co-production of the intervention at each recruitment site may be needed to overcome barriers and maximise engagement.” BMC Geriatrics
Zoom is also a useful app to have if you want to take online classes. Your local senior center, library, and recreation center are almost certainly hosting classes using Zoom. You can join a fitness class, a book club, or take an art class over the app. If you don’t feel confident using technology, check out classes that teach you how to make the best use of your phone, tablet, or computer. Libraries and senior centers offer these kinds of classes often.
The library may also have some really great apps that are free for patrons. Even if you don’t have a current library card, many libraries will give you an ecard using a mobile phone number. That will open the door to apps for learning languages (for that river cruise we know you’re eyeing), developing computer skills, fine arts courses, and much more.
This is just a small list of the possibilities for combating loneliness using mobile apps. You can also search for community-building apps or interest-based apps to find more.
So Zoom it up with your friends and family; it’s fun! Sign up for our newsletter if you like these articles and want them more often.