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Can sharing photos online help reduce feelings of loneliness in older people?

Everyone loves uploading their holiday albums or even photographs of their meals on social media, but is this just for our entertainment or are there other benefits? Research by The Open University and Oxford Brookes University is investigating whether sharing photographs via social media reduces loneliness and social isolation in older people.

The research, which is being led by Shailey Minocha, Professor of Learning Technologies and Social Computing at the OU, is aiming to address the interlinked issues of ageing, loneliness, social isolation, and wellbeing in people aged 60 and over.

Professor Shailey Minocha

Professor Shailey Minocha

In this project, which includes Dr Sarah Quinton at Oxford Brookes University and Dr Caroline Holland at the OU as co-investigators, they will research how sharing photography online by people aged over 60 can help in maintaining links with the family, as well as making new connections, and enhancing mental and physical wellbeing.

Providing insights to support older people

Through an online questionnaire, which they are aiming for at least 300 individual responses, and workshops hosted at both the OU and Oxford Brookes University, the research team is investigating the value of photograph sharing through social media in improving the psychological welbeing of people aged 60 years and over. Professor Minocha said:

“Our previous research with Age UK Milton Keynes has shown that online social engagement helps in alleviating social isolation and loneliness – especially if older people interacting online share similar interests.

Over the last few years, photography has become easier with cameras integrated into smartphones and tablets. Through a pilot study of an online photography journal (blipfoto.com), we found that taking photos and noticing details of life around them makes older people feel less alone; and online conversations around pictures with people of all ages enhances their psychological wellbeing.

Training older generations in social media

“We are conscious that the social benefits of ‘being online’ can’t be utilised by all – especially if an individual is incapacitated by their age, or doesn’t have the digital skills or access to the internet,” continued Professor Minocha. “Local charities are supporting older people through training and online technical support.”

The research is funded by the Sir Halley Stewart Trust and supported by Age UK Milton Keynes, Kellie Payne of Campaign to End Loneliness, Ransackers Association, and Silver Robin.

The project aims to show how photography and online sharing can help towards social connectivity of older people. The results from this project will provide insights for organisations that support us in later life.

About Author

Christine works in the Media Relations team within the Communications Unit at The Open University. She is an experienced BBC journalist, sub-editor and news editor and has a background in regional newspapers. After moving to PR she worked as a press officer for the Zoological Society of London. She has a BSc in Social Sciences with Politics from The Open University and focuses on stories from the Faculty of Social Science and widening access in HE. Chris swims regularly and has a pet Tortoise called Lightning.

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