Background: Loneliness is associated with negative health outcomes for older adults. Social connection may occur using information and communication technologies (ICTs), such as smartphones and tablets and interventions to increase ICT use have shown positive results. Purpose: This study aims to investigate the routines and attitudes of smartphone and tablet use for social connection and secondarily, determine if there is an association between the routines and attitudes and connection. Methods: Participants completed a survey with questions that included demographics, 3-item UCLA Loneliness Scale, Brief Sense of Community Scale, and open-ended questions. Results: Participants (N=21, median age of 76-80) report mostly living alone (76%), community center attendance of 2-5 days weekly (M=3.4), feelings of loneliness (48%), performance skill difficulty (90%), and median ICT use of 5-10 years. Over half report a daily routine of voice calls (90%), text messages (86%), social media (62%), email (57%), and others report never playing virtual games (71%), video calls (43%), listening to media (43%), or sending a question to a provider (38%). Participants agree smartphones and tablets help connect with family and friends (95%), peers (90%), and the community (81%). Voice call frequency is negatively associated with loneliness, while social media frequency is positively associated. Qualitative data reveals insight into valued tablet and smartphone skills, skill acquisition, and barriers. Conclusion: Older adults report positive attitudes of tablets and smartphones for social connection, routines of select social activities on devices, unmet social needs, and limitations with performance skills and patterns of device use.

Plain Language Summary. Loneliness can result in poor health for older adults and many people connect through smartphones and tablets. This study surveyed older adults use and feelings of using mobile devices for social connection. Older adults shared positive attitudes of their smartphone or tablet for social connection and using their device for certain social activities. However, older adults also shared limited skills and routines of using their device for social activities, and feelings of loneliness. More use of social media was linked to higher levels of loneliness, while more use of voice calls was linked to lower levels. This study demonstrates the value of occupational therapy evaluation of attitudes, performance skills, and performance patterns.



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