Design solutions that promote social connectedness

How might we use technology to empower older adults to stay connected to families, friends and their surrounding community?

By providing older adults with better tools, resources, and access, you can help them connect to their communities, stay healthy in their later years, and continue to lead meaningful lives.

Goal: Solutions should foster social engagement to prevent isolation and mental decline.

  • Opportunity & Challenge


    Social connectedness is a person’s level and quality of contact with other people, and is key to healthy aging. Studies show that older adults who have close connections and relationships not only live longer, but also cope better with health conditions and experience less depression. Life transitions can impact the number and quality of people’s social and community networks. For example, friends and family members may move away, which can have a negative impact on someone’s social network. But a transition such as the birth of a new family member can bring positive changes.


    Let’s imagine a set of tools, technologies or services that enable people to connect in new or unexpected ways and to create and nurture relationships across generations.

    Many of us find meaning and a sense of purpose through the connections we create with each other – but we don’t always know how to connect with new people outside of our social circle or where to go to find others with shared interests. What tools – apps, platforms, websites, in-person meetups, community events or other vehicles – might help older adults meet people outside of their peer group, form friendships and mentoring relationships and share stories of how these connections have changed their mindset, behaviors or perspectives?  

    Challenge Prompts

    • How might we create virtual spaces for people to come together?
    • How might we use technology to create new connections between people and communities?
    • How might we make it easier for people to find others who share similar interests?
    • How might we put new experiences within arm’s reach (more accessible)?
    • How might we foster unexpected connections across generations?
  • User Personas for Challenge

    Having a purpose in life is important, as well as social group involvement, and satisfaction with social connectedness. The size of a person's social network is also an important indicator. Four social types are categorized below:

    Persona A - the Highly-Connected
    • 28% of population
    • median age = 61
    • large social network
    • high social group involvement
    • high connectedness satisfaction
    Persona B - the People Person
    • 28% of population
    • median age = 58
    • large social network
    • low social group involvement
    • high satisfaction with connectedness
    Persona C - the Giver
    • 22% of population
    • median age = 56
    • small social network
    • high social group involvement (serve not socialize)
    • low to medium satisfaction with connectedness
    Persona D - the Socially-Disconnected
    • 19% of population
    • median age = 56
    • small social network
    • low social group involvement
    • low satisfaction with connectedness
  • Challenge Guidelines

    Solutions need to address these barriers and drivers for connectivity to be sustainable and in order  to empower meaningful daily living.

    One in five older adults are “Socially-Disconnected:” Older adults say their social relationships encourage them to try new things and take better care of their health. Consider solutions that meets the following criteria:

    • Help older adults identify a purpose for joining social networks
    • Motivate older adults to participate in social groups
    • Help build-out, maintain and sustain engagement with social networks

    Barriers to Taking Action: Life circumstances change as one ages, affecting the ability for older adults to stay socially connected:

    • Changes in health and ability to walk and get around
    • Changes in appearance (eg. teeth or hair loss)
    • Loss of family and friends, particularly a spouse
    • Commuting challenges. When driving is no longer an option, isolation becomes a significant issue, especially in communities where there is little or no public transportation
    • Lack of motivation and fatigue

    Recommended Actions: Below are some proactive steps recommended for older adults to take to prevent loneliness and stay connected:

    • Join Community Activities: It's recommended for older adults to think about activities they enjoy and look around their community for ways to get involved.
    • Volunteer: Not only will volunteering help the community, it is a great opportunity to meet new people.
    • Use Technology: Sometimes it’s not possible to have face-to-face contact with a friend. Get up to speed on technology because there are various ways to communicate and stay in touch with your loved ones. Share pictures through email or social media. Have a video conversation.
    • Keep an active mind. Learn to paint. Learn to cook. Learn something you like. Take an educational or creative writing class. Take a class, new skills will improve confidence, which helps social interaction to become more pleasurable.
    • Be Active. Not only is physical activity vital in preventing falls, it is an amazing way to meet other people.

    Other Drivers of Positive Change:

    • Help individuals feel motivated through engagement based on implicit relationships derived from trust, respect, and caring, leading to user self-empowerment and self-reliance.
    • Create a vibrant community that supports intergenerational connectivity with family and the local community.
  • Challenge-Specific Resources and Readings

    2016 AARP Social Engagement and Brain Survey: Findings by the AARP which seek to:

    • Characterize social engagement, isolation and loneliness, and social network size among older adults
    • Understand factors that influence social engagement, isolation, and loneliness
    • Examine the relationship between social engagement, isolation, and loneliness and brain health, physical health, and mental wellbeing