Elena Gonzalez and Su Jin Lee, researchers at the Center for Assistive Technology and Environmental Access (CATEA), recently appeared on a Fulton County Government TV program to discuss social isolation among seniors.
They joined Dr. Pamela Roshell, host of the program “Connect,” to talk about programs for seniors as well as opportunities for seniors to participate in aging research at Georgia Tech.
Roshell, also director of the Department of Senior Services for Fulton County, said social isolation among seniors can occur after retirement, the death of a spouse or other family members.
Health conditions, depression, and cognitive functioning are factors that can lead to social isolation, she said. Social networks decrease and access to social support weakens. However technological advances are countering this and creating applications that can decrease this experience.
One program they talked about was DATHA – Design and Technologies for Healthy Aging, an initiative started by three faculty at Georgia Tech after recognizing a need for a central forum under which individuals from a wide array of disciplines in the aging-related field come together to discuss, identify, and advance design and technology innovations for healthy aging.
The DATHA initiative is founded upon the belief that effective design and technology solutions require a multidisciplinary approach, with experts from academia, industry, government, social services as well as the seniors themselves. DATHA hosts a monthly networking event which brings together researchers and students at Georgia Tech with practitioners, service providers, and industry professionals in the community.
Founded in 2009, DATHA continues to operate with grant support from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research.
Lee and Gonzalez discussed several past and ongoing projects related to countering social isolation with technology. Lee noted technology can be effective when older adults are geographically distanced from family, friends, and social networks. She said that mainstream technologies, such as email, Skype, and Facebook, can be successful in countering social isolation of seniors.
Gonzalez said a group of investigators in the ongoing is researching “telewellness” technologies that facilitate physical engagement and activities.
These technologies help people to use platforms such as Skype to take a class or exercise. They are beneficial to those in a rural environment or who can’t get to a senior center, she said.