On February 13th 2019, Dr Jacob Andrews, former PhD student in CATCH, and Prof Mark Hawley, Director of CATCH, published a new paper in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. The paper is titled ‘Older Adults’ Perspectives on Using Digital Technology to Maintain Good Mental Health: Interactive Group Study’.

This paper describes a study in which older adults presented their views of using different types of digital technology to help support their mental health. The study aimed to understand what might motivate (or demotivate) older people to use technology for this purpose. We did this research because there isn’t much research available on older adults’ use of technology to support mental health, even though they are the fastest growing group of users of digital technology, and mental health problems are common in this group.

The methods we used for this study were very interactive. Fifteen older adults aged 50 years or older (average age 66) came to the CATCH Home Lab to try out some different digital technologies designed to support mental health. Using interactive activities meant we could capture peoples’ immediate reactions to these apps and websites, and it made the sessions more interesting for people taking part.

Our results showed that older adults were motivated to use technology to improve their mood, either because it helped to distract them from their concerns, or because it made them feel normal to see descriptions of different feelings written down, or because it helped them to reflect on their own thoughts and feelings. Lots of people also said that they liked to use technology so they don’t have to bother or annoy their friends and relatives – it gives them a sense of self-reliance.

We also heard about some things that might stop people from using technology to support their mental health. These included that people were wary about what might happen if they recorded their feelings in a digital app, also people said that feeling low sometimes discouraged them from using technology in the first place. For some, it was difficult to use apps and websites on tablets or phones, because they had limited mobility in their hands, or because they didn’t know what different symbols and buttons meant. Despite these factors, many of our older adult volunteers were aware of websites or apps that were designed to support good mental health.

Overall, our paper shows that older adults are motivated to use digital technologies to keep up or improve their mental health, but there are some factors that developers of apps and websites need to address for this population to access them.

Read the paper in full here: ‘Older Adults’ Perspectives on Using Digital Technology to Maintain Good Mental Health: Interactive Group Study’.