Online Invited Seminar Talk

Can Technology Help Address Loneliness in Later Life? Lessons Learned from Research in Sensitive Settings

Laboratory of Digital and Computational Demography
Online Invited Seminar Talk, November 24, 2020

Barbara Barbosa Neves from Monash University, Australia presented her research bridging Sociology and Computer Science to develop technology-based initiatives to address loneliness among older people living in aged-care facilities in her Online Invited Seminar Talk.


Loneliness has negative social and health consequences for older people (aged 65+), from increased risk of diseases (e.g., dementia, cardiovascular disease, stroke, depression) to social exclusion. Loneliness relates to a subjective feeling of lacking companionship, of not belonging; it occurs when our social connection needs are not met by our social relationships. Thus, social connectedness – i.e., meaningful social interaction – helps alleviate and prevent loneliness. As digital technologies have the potential to create opportunities for social connectedness, Dr. Neves conducted participatory research bridging Sociology and Computer Science to develop and refine technology-based initiatives to address loneliness among frail older people living in aged-care facilities. While this group is particularly vulnerable to loneliness, it has been overlooked in research because of recruitment limitations in sensitive settings due to, for example, ethical issues and life expectancy compression.

In this talk, Dr. Neves outline lessons learned from developing and evaluating technology to help tackle loneliness among hard-to-reach groups. For this, she brings together different studies: i) a longitudinal mixed methods study of a co-designed accessible communication app in two Canadian care homes with frail older people, ii) research in Australia with a similar group to explore diverse technology-based responses to loneliness, and iii) a pilot on emerging technology such as Virtual Reality for people living with dementia in care homes. She concludes by discussing opportunities and challenges of these approaches to lessen loneliness. 


Barbara B. Neves (PhD) is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Monash University, Australia. She is a sociologist of technology, specializing in ageing and social inclusion in later life. In particular, she studies loneliness among older people and emerging technologies (communication apps, robotics, VR). Prior to moving to Australia, she was an Associate Director at the ‘Technologies for Aging Gracefully Lab’, Department of Computer Science, University of Toronto, Canada. Barbara’s research appears in top-tier journals in Social and Computer Sciences, such as Information, Communication & Society, CHI, PLOS One, Journal of Applied Gerontology, Social Science Research. Her latest book, co-edited with Prof. Frank Vetere, brings together social and computer scientists designing and testing technology for/with older adults (Springer, 2019). Her work has been awarded and recognized in North America, Japan, Europe, and Australia. Last year, she was named by the ABC and the University of Sydney among the Top 5 Humanities and Social Science scholars in Australia for the ABC Top 5 program. 

The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.