CHAMPAIGN — Even before the coronavirus began leaving some older adults more socially isolated than ever, University of Illinois researchers were already collaborating with a Philadelphia-based start-up to help make video communication easier for this age group to use.
Now, they’re undertaking new research to see if social interaction using OneClick video chat can help older adult users feel less lonely.
OneClick offers web-based video chat with a single click, without requiring any downloads or a login.
Users take part in virtual group get-togethers similar to those offered via Skype and Zoom.
But OneChat has been designed to be easier for older adults to use, according to UI kinesiology and community health Professor Wendy Rogers, who is leading the research with UI speech and hearing science Professor Raksha Mudar.
Social interaction was already known to be an important link to mental and physical health outcomes, Rogers said.
Now, in the midst of a pandemic lockdown, the importance of social interaction has become even more noticeable, she said.
It’s not so much age but technology experience that can make video communication systems difficult for some older adults to use, Rogers said.
But some systems are overly complicated, she said, and usability challenges can have an impact on older adults dealing with age-related changes in hearing, vision and working memory.
Sometimes, attempts to use this form of communication can also fail simply due to lack of instructions for users, she said.
“Too often, we think technology should be something you can use without any instructional support,” Rogers said.
The first phase of the research was a small pilot study to see if older adults both with and without mild cognitive impairment could use OneClick on their own at home.
Participants in the pilot study were interviewed to see how they liked the system and asked what they’d use it for, she said.
“They had creative ideas, talking about books, movies, continuing education, doing physical activity as a group,” she said.
For the next phase of the research, Rogers and Mudar will be working with 120 older adults in a clinical trial, including 60 adults with mild cognitive impairment. Participants will be tracked for six months and assessed about their opportunities for socializing using OneClick, whether they found it enjoyable and if it reduced their loneliness.
The researchers will also be working with Urbana’s Clark-Lindsey Village, Danville’s CRIS Healthy-Aging Center and Chicago’s CJE SeniorLife on how they can use OneClick for support services for their clients.
The research is being funded with a National Institutes of Health Small Business Innovation Research grant.