What is it about?

Frequent social interactions are known to be related to higher well-being across the life span, but digital communication is often not clearly defined or not studied in older samples (people 65 years and older). Nevertheless, older adults use digital communication at an increasing rate and it is of interest to see how and under which conditions these can be beneficial for their well-being. Our study looked at how frequency of use of different types of communication, (in-person, video calls, telephone calls, and emails/sms) is related to well-being in older adults. The study used data from 98 participants (65 years and older), collected weekly over a course of 64 weeks during the Covid-19 pandemic. We expected that the richer the communication tool is (i.e., the richness of information it can convey during a conversation like voice or facial expression), the more beneficial it would be for the participants’ well-being. We looked at how often participants communicated via different communication tools and how that was associated with their well-being. To do that, we compared reports of communication and its associations with well-being between participants but also compared participants with their own reports from previous weeks. Further, we were curious to see if an increased frequency of use of video-calls, telephone calls, and emails/sms could compensate for a decrease in in-person communication. Results demonstrate that participants who reported more communication in-person, via telephone, and via emails/sms also reported higher levels of well-being and less loneliness. In weeks when participants reported to have communicated more than usual in-person, via telephone or via email/sms, they also reported higher levels of well-being than usual. The frequency of use of video-calls surprisingly reported either no significant association with well-being or participants even reported less well-being with an increased frequency. Our results also showed that during weeks with less in-person communication, more communication via telephone or emails/sms buffered negative effects on loneliness. In conclusion, there is evidence that increased use of digital communication can compensate for negative associations that a decrease in in-person communication has on well-being for older adults.

Featured Image

Why is it important?

Our findings suggest that not only in-person communication can positively influence well-being, but that lack of in-person communication can even be compensated for with other (digital) communication. This opens the door to a broad range of interventions and support possibilities for well-being in older age. However, in-person communication still seems to play a uniquely important role for well-being as it showed to have the strongest positive association with well-being, so one should not dismiss in-person contact. Video-calls showed surprising and partly inconsistent results and should be studied further. The results underline the necessity to support and encourage older adults to further adapt digital communication into their everyday life.

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: The role of social interaction modality for well-being in older adults., Psychology and Aging, April 2024, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/pag0000816.
You can read the full text:



The following have contributed to this page