Abstract: Improving Social Support for Older Adults Through Technology: Early Results from a Randomized Clinical Trial (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

12158 Improving Social Support for Older Adults Through Technology: Early Results from a Randomized Clinical Trial

Thursday, January 14, 2010: 1:30 PM
Bayview B (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
Paul P. Freddolino, PhD , Michigan State University, Professor, East Lansing, MI
Amanda T. Woodward, PhD , Michigan State University, Assistant Professor, East Lansing, MI
Christina Blaschke, MSW , Michigan State University, Assistant Coordinator of Distance Education, East Lansing, MI
Louanne Bakk, MSW , Michigan State University, Clinical Instructor, East Lansing, MI
Mary Fox , Otsego County Commission on Aging, Coordinator, Technology and Aging Project, Gaylord, MI
Dona Wishart , Otsego County Commission on Aging, Executive Director, Gaylord, MI
Background and Purpose: Positive social relationships impact physical and mental health while a relationship deficit poses a major risk factor for the health of older adults. Although previous social network interventions have had limited success, recent research suggests use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), including the Internet, can reduce loneliness among adults by increasing contact with families and providing new social opportunities. Despite these possible benefits, older adults are unlikely to go online absent opportunity and perceived value. The objective of this study is to develop and test an ICT-based social support intervention for older adults. Our hypothesis is that expanding ICT use and increasing ICT self-efficacy will increase social support, improve quality of life, and ultimately decrease loneliness and depression.

Methods: A survey of adults 60 and older in a rural Michigan county assessed ICT ownership, knowledge, utilization, and self-efficacy. Respondents who indicated interest in participating in a technology-related research project were randomly assigned into experimental (n=45) or control groups (n=38). There were no significant differences in demographics or outcome measures between the groups at baseline. The experimental group participated in a six-month training program in ICT use. Data were collected at baseline and at three months, with additional data collection to be completed at six months and a nine-month follow-up. Dependent variables include loneliness, depression, quality of life, perceived social support, social network structure, computer self-efficacy, and ICT ownership and use. This presentation will report on bivariate analyses of data from baseline (T1) and three months (T2).

Results: After three months of ICT training the experimental group showed a significant increase in perceived social support and computer efficacy and scored significantly higher on these measures than the control group. The control group reported no significant change on any measure between T1 and T2. In terms of the use of specific ICTs, experimental group participants consistently reported an increased use of technologies emphasized during the training such as email, instant messaging, searching web pages, and downloading pictures. While some control subjects reported more use of certain technologies at T2 as well, their responses were varied. In fact, some reported a decline in the use of some ICTs. This is consistent with literature suggesting that older adults who find no benefit from or support for using new technologies may stop using them.

Conclusions and Implications: After three months of training, program participants reported increased computer self-efficacy and more frequent use of ICTs emphasized in the training. This overcoming of the “digital divide” for older adults is an important first step in the developmental process envisioned in the intervention design. In addition, participants reported higher perceived social support as hypothesized. Future analysis with T3 and T4 data will determine sustainability of these trends, and if hypothesized effects on other dependent variables materialize. However, even these initial findings suggest that a technology-related intervention can impact older adults, and they raise challenging questions about social work's role in facilitating that involvement.