Can Technology Solve the Feeling of Alone and Isolated?

For the past five years, I've been hypersensitive about aging alone and its related affairs. During this time, I found an Elder Orphan Facebook group, written about the topic for leading news publications, created a syndicated column, and have spoken with others who live in similar situations.

We are the folks who live alone without the support of family nearby. But what I find are people, even the ones who have family members, and those living in senior housing communities, struggle with feelings of being alone. They live with a sense of disconnect even when surrounded by others.

Can Technology Solve Loneliness?

Recently, I spoke with a woman living in a CCRC (continuing care retirement community) who confirmed my suspicion. She's interested in starting a group like the one on Facebook, at her independent living community. When we talked, she mentioned, "even where I live in an active environment, people feel anxiety about being alone, even if they have adult children." Then she asked, "How does one resolve that stress, it seems to affect residents even though we're surrounded by support?"

I knew exactly what she meant and understand that constant undercurrent reminding us of being vulnerable. No matter what age we are, feeling that way is disturbing.

As we talked about feeling alone, the woman, I'll call Diana, spoke of her situation. She lives with 340 residents in a high-rise senior housing in Fort Worth. From Diana's perspective, she thrives along with those who have become her friends, acquaintances, and neighbors. One would imagine that living in such an environment would create a deep sense of common attitudes, interests, and goals.

The community certainly produces fellowship, connection, and friendship, however, it does not eliminate the sense of feeling vulnerable.

The Anxiety of Powerlessness

Years ago, in the latter fifties, after my parents' death, the concept of growing old alone surfaced with some alarm. By this time, I thought I had adapted well to living independently. However, I longed to feel connected but didn't. So, I completely understood Diana's concerns since I remembered my struggles feeling the same way.

But fortunately for me, at the time, I was receiving life coaching. And it was my coach who helped me moved through the anxiety of it.

So, I explained to Diana what the life coach taught me -- a few simple steps that changed my world forever; a plan of action used daily as I went out into the world:

  • Make eye contact with each person I encounter.
  • Offer a smile, if comfortable.
  • Say "hello," and ask, "how are you?"
  • When shopping, strike up conversations with cashiers or a shopper next in line.
  • When checking out, look the cashier in the eye and say, "thank you."

At the beginning, it felt awkward, but after a while, it felt normal. Several years forward, today, I'm able to easily start small talk at the bus stop, on elevators, in coffee shops, at restaurants, and other places.

That's what worked for me. However, it takes an effort. Of course, it helps to have the support of a coach. But, if you want encouragement to make eye contact (and you don't have a coach,) I wonder if technology could help? I mean, we have apps for everything else, why not for this?

Can Technology Encourage Connection?

Facebook certainly has helped members of the elder orphan group to stay connected but people still complain about feeling alone and isolated. Looking for solutions, a few members started meeting locally, however, they don't meet frequently enough to solve the issue.

While researching isolation, I discovered a startup company, K4Connect that offers senior living communities several ways to keep residents engaged by integrating smart technologies. Hmm, sounded interesting and wondered if it could help the "alone" dilemma?

I spoke with the CEO and co-founder, Scott Moody, about the company, and his reasons for starting it, and what he hopes to accomplish?

"K4Connect increases independence and improves the quality of life for older adults, and people living with disabilities, by enabling them to stay social, active, and connected through integrating technology and apps," says Moody, and he hopes to eliminate, or at least mitigate its effects.

The products the company offers were first conceived when Scott met someone with MS and realized the technologies K4Connect was developing could make a real difference in his new friend's life. However, the benefit of what K4Connect offers became much more personally clear to Scott when he underwent a debilitating but benign brain tumor after starting the company. Through the arduous ordeal, he couldn't help but think about how others managed through similar situations, particularly those economically challenged or living alone.

Fortunately for Moody, he made a complete recovery with the help of a loving and supportive wife and daughters. From that challenging ordeal, Scott wanted to help others with similar injuries or disabilities and to figure out a way for them to have a simpler, healthier, and happier life. And he believes the company can accomplish that through technology.

The part I want to know is if Scott can help people like me living alone in regular neighborhoods in the suburbs since these places don't offer a close-knit environment. How can regular citizens living in these isolated places use videos, photos, messaging, and local events to enable them to be socially active and connected? It's something members of the elder orphan group critically want and need. But even beyond that, how can we lessen feeling vulnerable?

My question to Scott, and other technology startups, "Can you deliver an app that sends simple reminders that help guide individuals to navigate their way through the painful world of isolation?" You see, it's not so much that we're at home alone, but it's more about having the feeling of being alone even when we're in a crowd.

So, I ask, "Can companies like K4Connect measure my level of disengagement when I'm isolated, especially when out and about in public? Can you send a reminder to say, "hello, and smile?" And then, send a nudge to ask, "How are you today?"

That's the challenge I ask Scott Moody to take on, one that he tells me he is only too happy to!

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