Virtual Lifelong Learning Among Older Adults: Usage and Impact During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Cureus. 2022 Apr 27;14(4):e24525. doi: 10.7759/cureus.24525. eCollection 2022 Apr.


Social isolation and loneliness are major health concerns for older adults, with the current prevalence of social isolation among older adults estimated to be as high as 43%. In older adults, loneliness and social isolation have both been linked with poor health outcomes including falls, re-hospitalizations, dementia, and all-cause mortality. During the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, older adults constituted one of the most at-risk groups and were faced with some of the strictest and earliest social distancing recommendations, which were associated with increased feelings of loneliness and increased rates of depression and anxiety, upwards of 12%. The objective of this study was to identify the impact of online social connection on feelings of isolation and companionship among older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic. Following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines in March 2020, two South Florida social and educational programs for older adults adopted online programming utilizing the Zoom platform. A research team worked collaboratively with senior stakeholders to develop and administer a survey to understand the impact of online social connections on feelings of social isolation. One year later in 2021, the survey was reviewed, modified, and re-administered. Respondents of the survey included 211 older adults (mean age 75.5 years old). Notable findings included a strong association between frequency of online class attendance and increased feelings of connectedness (p<0.001), improved spirits (p<0.001), and decreased feelings of social isolation (p<0.001). These results underscore the importance and contribution of online programming among older adults during times of social isolation. Overall, clinical practitioners should consider the importance of initiating discussions with older adults regarding returning to activities that they enjoyed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

PMID:35651387 | PMC:PMC9138274 | DOI:10.7759/cureus.24525