Avoiding social isolation & keeping an active lifestyle

By:  hiratsuka   |  Posted: September 22, 2014   |  Updated: April 18, 2023

Problem Description


Discussion held at September 2014 Aging-in-Place-Technologies meetup, San Carlos, CA

Situation: parent not getting out, lonely in home.

The group discussed the area of social isolation with particular emphasis on a parent who is not leaving their home very often and is showing signs of getting lonely.

A common reason people spend more time in their home is that they lose the ability to drive reliably. A person is used to driving themselves anywhere they want, any time they want. As a person ages they gradually lose this freedom. At first a person may decide to only drive during the daylight hours. Then they may decide to drive only to more local destinations. Through this the person is still able to get out of the house and go somewhere. At some point a person may feel that they should not be driving but circumstances force them to take one white-knuckled trip to the grocery store a week; the person actively avoids driving except in the most critical circumstance. When this point is reached the person is now isolated in their home. While it is a progression in loss of ability, the final step of realizing “I can’t drive anywhere” can be devastating. Suddenly the person is staying home all the time.

What can be done? Our group discussed several potential options to help the situation.

Mobility factors.

In many geographies public transporation can be too confusing and unreliable for an older person. Taxis are an option, but they are often hard to obtain in the suburbs, are expensive, and require scheduling ahead. Community services often provide ride services, but many require day-ahead planning and don’t provide services to “go see a friend.” There are emerging solutions to bring more transportation to these individuals. Uber, Lyft or other ride-sharing options may be a good option for the unscheduled short trips.  Some senior centers provide transportation for locals.  Driverless vehicles may become an option in the future — several automakers and Google are investigating these!

 Companionship at home.

Perhaps computers can become social partners, offering interaction on a personal basis, not just access to information.  Older adults could use Skype to communicate with family/friends and see each other remotely. A new idea we discussed: GeriJoy, virtual care companions in the form of a dog or cat avatar on the computer (tablet), but with real live people behind the scenes. Companionship is available 24 hours, 7 days a week. The older adult would see and interact with the animal on the screen but the actual interaction would be with a human behind the avatar.

 Senior centers and activities.

Many communities have senior centers where trips are planned (local events, as well as remote trips) and outreach groups are available for teaching technical topics (e.g. using a computer).  Many seniors enjoy the company of others outside their homes and the senior centers provide places to play games (Mahjong, Rummicube, checkers, Monopoly etc.) and interact with others.  On Lok in San Francisco provides transportation to the center; others probably do as well.

 Learning reduces isolation.

Besides classes at the local senior center, there are online classes, YouTube, local community colleges, library book clubs, etc. Recent documentary Cyber-Seniors (2014)  http://cyberseniorsdocumentary.com/ shows seniors learning about computers from teens. Do we need a set of online classes that are specifically aimed at seniors to offer some education, but with a secondary objective of increasing social interaction?


Seniors who lose the ability to drive can still volunteer to teach something (gardening, English as a 2nd language, computers) and in return have credits to use when they need them, perhaps for transportation: time banking – e.g Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s linkAges.


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1 thought on “Avoiding social isolation & keeping an active lifestyle”

  1. Seniors teaching others

    Having seniors teach others, or even talking about places they have been, is a good way to keep them active, social, and engaged. I think having others listen to them also helps maintain self esteem.

    Our local senior center offered one-on-one computer help. The seniors didn’t want this, they wanted a group setting. But once in the group they didn’t really want a class, they wanted 1-1 help. I think they like the group setting so that they don’t have to own half the conversation for the whole time. When they reach their limit they can say, “why don’t you help someone else for a bit?”