ChatGPT: A promising tool to combat social isolation and loneliness in older adults with mild cognitive impairment

SOCIAL IOLOLITY AND LONENESS is a growing concern for older adults, especially those with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). MCI is characterized by mild cognitive decline, often considered a transitional stage between normal aging and dementia.1 Many older adults with MCI develop memory problems and personality changes that often lead to communication difficulties and withdrawal from social activities, exacerbating social isolation and loneliness.2

Experiences of social isolation and loneliness are detrimental to health in later life, as they are associated with increased risk of chronic inflammation, cardiovascular disease, and even mortality.3-5 Recent advances in artificial intelligence (AI), particularly the development of conversational AI tools such as ChatGPT, have shown promising potential in solving these problems. Here, we will explore the role of ChatGPT in reducing social isolation and loneliness in older adults with MCI, highlighting its benefits and the need for further research in this area.

ChatGPT to prevent social isolation and loneliness

ChatGPT offers a new approach to addressing social isolation and loneliness in older adults with MCI. ChatGPT provides users with human conversations, allowing them to engage in stimulating and meaningful interactions.6 By offering ongoing social support, ChatGPT has the potential to reduce feelings of loneliness and help older adults with MCI maintain a sense of social connectedness. The benefits of using ChatGPT as a tool to combat social isolation and loneliness among older adults with MCI include several areas of potential.

Promotion of social connections

ChatGPT can act as a virtual companion, providing older adults with MCI a safe and non-judgmental space for conversation. The AI ​​model is designed to understand and answer complex queries, making it the perfect companion that can adapt to the user’s cognitive abilities and interests.7 In doing so, ChatGPT can help reduce feelings of loneliness and promote a sense of connection, which has been shown to improve mental health and well-being.8 ChatGPT can facilitate communication between older adults and their families, friends and carers. Acting as a mediator, an artificial intelligence model can help bridge the communication gap that often results from cognitive decline, facilitating more meaningful connections between older adults and their social network.

Providing emotional support

ChatGPT can provide emotional support by offering individuals a non-judgmental outlet to express their thoughts and feelings.6 It can help reduce loneliness and provide a sense of connectedness that is vital to well-being. ChatGPT can be programmed to adapt its communication style to match the cognitive abilities of people with MCI, making it easier for them to engage in conversation.6 This tailored approach can help maintain their social skills and reduce feelings of frustration or embarrassment that can be caused by communication difficulties.

Our first example is asking ChatGPT to provide emotional support to older adults with MCI (FIGURE 1). ChatGPT developed an emotional support system to provide empathic, compassionate and non-judgmental support to older adults with cognitive challenges. This system engages users in a series of open conversations, allowing them to express their thoughts, feelings and concerns. It is designed to actively listen, validate and empathize with the user’s emotions, offering appropriate support, encouragement and coping strategies. By offering empathic, personalized and accessible conversations, ChatGPT has the potential to support the well-being of older adults with MCI by promoting a greater sense of connectedness and resilience in the face of cognitive challenges.

Support daily life

ChatGPT can also help with daily tasks and routines. By offering reminders about appointments, medications, and other daily tasks, this AI model can help older adults with MCI maintain a sense of independence and control over their lives.9 In addition, ChatGPT can provide information and resources on coping strategies and techniques to help manage the challenges of MCI, further supporting older adults in their daily lives.6

Our second example is asking ChatGPT to act as a daily assistant for older adults with MCI (FIGURE 2). It uses its advanced natural language processing capabilities to develop personalized and interactive assistance, helping users maintain independence and improve their overall quality of life. The assistant, called LifeGuide, supports users in various daily tasks and activities. Overall, LifeGuide is an innovative application of AI technology to support everyday life. By offering personalized, interactive and accessible assistance, ChatGPT can play a critical role in helping older adults with MCI maintain their independence and improve their overall quality of life.

Availability

One of the main advantages of ChatGPT is its accessibility. The AI-based conversational tool can be accessed via a variety of devices such as smartphones, tablets or computers, making it a convenient tool for older adults with limited mobility or access to social activities. During the Covid-19 lockdown, access to communication technology was critical to helping older adults connect socially.10 By bridging the digital divide through user-friendly interfaces that meet the needs of older users with reduced vision, motor skills, or cognitive function, ChatGPT can become an essential tool for older adults with MCI to reduce loneliness and maintain connections.

Challenges and future directions

Despite the promising potential of ChatGPT to reduce social isolation and loneliness among older adults with MCI, several issues remain to be addressed. First, rigorous, evidence-based studies are needed to evaluate the effectiveness of ChatGPT in this context. Interventional and longitudinal studies may help evaluate the long-term effects of ChatGPT on social isolation, loneliness, and general well-being in older adults with cognitive impairment. Second, when implementing AI-based tools like ChatGPT, ethical considerations must be taken into account. Privacy, data security, and potential biases in AI algorithms need to be addressed to ensure that the technology is used responsibly and ethically.11,12 Third, bridging the digital divide is critical to ensuring that older adults with MCI can access and benefit from ChatGPT. Providing training and support in the use of digital devices and making technology more accessible and accessible can help bridge the gap between older adults and technology.13 Finally, it is important to recognize that ChatGPT should not be viewed as a replacement for human interaction, but as an additional tool to help older adults remain socially engaged. For older adults with MCI, encouraging and facilitating social interactions with family, friends, and caregivers remains critical.

Summary

ChatGPT offers a promising way to combat social isolation and loneliness among older adults with MCI. By providing tailored communication, emotional support, daily life and accessibility, this AI-based conversational tool can improve the quality of life for these individuals. However, further research and development is needed to assess its effectiveness, address ethical issues and ensure widespread access.

Correspondence with:
Bei Wu, PhD
Rory Meyers College of Nursing, New York University, New York 10010, USA.
Phone: 212-992-5951
E-mail: bei.wu@nyu.edu
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