Can Digital Technology Enhance Social Connectedness Amongst Institutionalized Older Adults? Computer Science Meets Sociology for an Action Research Project
To test the adoption and feasibility of InTouch to increase social connectedness, we conducted a two-month deployment study in a long-term care facility (n=4, 80+) and a three-month deployment study in a retirement home (n=12, 74+) in Canada. These studies included semi-structured interviews with our participants and relatives, field observations, and usability and accessibility tests. Drawing on Rob Stones’ Strong Structuration Theory, our results show that the feasibility of InTouch to enhance perceived social connectedness depends on: the involvement of at least one strong tie, perceived usefulness and functionality, adjustment periods, and the management of different intergenerational norms and expectations. For half of the participants, the app had also a positive impact on their perceived well-being, namely in terms of self-efficacy and comfort with technology (digital literacy). It had, however, a negative impact on two participants, making them more aware of their digital “inadequacy” or impairments (speech-related). Our findings further demonstrate that older adults are far from a homogeneous group. We conclude by discussing critical factors (structural and agentic) for the design and implementation of any similar digital technology.