How are we keeping in touch?

How are we keeping in touch? Texting children and friends.Paper Cup Phone

The ICC study was particularly interested in social connections. The ability to keep up connections with friends and family, and supportive social networks are understood to be an important part of healthy ageing.  The ICC was tasked with examining how people keep in touch, and the ways in which people stay connected may be changing as society changes.

Texting was the most popular method for keeping in touch with others.  Almost half of the ICC sample (45%) texted their children and friends two or three times a week or more. Around a quarter (27%) also texted relatives and neighbours (28%).

Looking at the different age groups, we found that the frequency with which people talked or texted on the phone to their friends changed little with age, except for a small decrease after 74 years of age. Contact with relatives also dropped with increasing age. However, phone contact with children dropped steadily for those from 60 to 74 years of age (from 52% to 40%) before rising again to 45% of participants talking or texting at least 2-3 times per week after the age of 74. As people get older, they seem to keep in touch with neighbours more. The proportion of participants talking or texting twice a week or more to their neighbours rose from 20% to 39% in relation to the age of the participants.

Meeting face to face was less common.  Around a quarter of the sample met with their children (26%), neighbours (21%), and friends (34%) twice a week or more. Very few met with other relatives this frequently (11%).  Meeting face to face with other people such as relatives and friends was very similar across all age groups.  Seeing children was also similar across the age groups except for those over the age of 74 who showed an increase in face to face contact with children (from 26% to 32% meeting twice a week or more).  As with phone contact, these older people were also more likely to report meeting their neighbours (14% of those under 74 years compared to 27% of those over 74 years).

Online connections were fewer in this age group.  There was a moderate amount of online connection with children (20%) and friends (17%). Only 11%  interacted online twice a week or more with relatives and 3% with neighbours. Generally, there was no difference in how often different age groups spoke to friends, relatives, and neighbours online. There was a difference for speaking with children however, with 29% speaking twice a week or more dropping to around 19% for those aged over 65.

Questions. The issues raised by these initial findings focus more on who is not connecting.  Older people in our sample are using a variety of ways of keeping in touch but the proportions for each mode are relatively small. Even texting to family and friends does not reach 50%.  Although the older age groups in the sample were more likely to have contact with children and neighbours, these remain relatively low proportions.  This raises questions about the difficulties of keeping in touch as we get older and the problems of isolation and loneliness that some older people face.