ChatGPT: A Promising Tool to Combat Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults With Mild Cognitive Impairment

Publication
Article
NeurologyLiveJune 2023
Volume 6
Issue 3

Recent advances in artificial intelligence—particularly conversational AI tools such as ChatGPT—suggest promising potential in addressing the issues of loneliness and social isolation in these patient populations.

Xiang Qi, PhD

Xiang Qi, PhD

Bei Wu, PhD

Bei Wu, PhD

SOCIAL ISOLATION AND LONELINESS are growing concerns among older adults, particularly those with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). MCI is characterized by slight cognitive decline, often considered a transitional phase between normal aging and dementia.1 Many older adults with MCI start to have memory problems and personality changes that often lead to communication difficulties and withdrawal from social activities, exacerbating social isolation and loneliness.2

Experience of social isolation and experiences of loneliness are harmful to health outcomes in later life, as they are associated with increased risks of chronic inflammation, cardiovascular diseases, and even mortality.3-5 Recent advances in artificial intelligence (AI), particularly the development of conversational AI tools such as ChatGPT, have demonstrated promising potential in addressing these issues. Here, we will explore the role of ChatGPT in mitigating social isolation and loneliness among older adults with MCI, highlighting its benefits and the need for further research in this area.

ChatGPT to Address Social Isolation and Loneliness

ChatGPT offers a new approach to addressing social isolation and loneliness in older adults with MCI. ChatGPT provides users with humanlike conversation, enabling them to engage in stimulating and meaningful interactions.6 By offering continuous social support, ChatGPT can potentially alleviate feelings of loneliness and help older adults with MCI maintain a sense of social connection. Benefits of using ChatGPT as a tool to combat social isolation and loneliness among older adults with MCI include a variety of areas of potential.

Fostering Social Connections

ChatGPT can act as a virtual companion, providing older adults with MCI a safe and judgment-free space to engage in conversations. The AI model is designed to understand and respond to complex queries, making it an ideal companion that can adapt to the cognitive abilities and interests of the user.7 By doing so, ChatGPT can help alleviate feelings of loneliness and foster 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 caregivers. By acting as an intermediary, the AI model can help bridge the communication gap that often arises due to cognitive decline, fostering more meaningful connections between older adults and their social network.

Providing Emotional Support

ChatGPT can provide emotional support by offering a nonjudgmental space for individuals to express their thoughts and feelings.6 This can help alleviate loneliness and provide a sense of connection, which is crucial for well-being. ChatGPT can be programmed to adapt its communication style to match the cognitive abilities of individuals with MCI, making it easier for them to engage in conversations.6 This tailored approach can help maintain their social skills and alleviate feelings of frustration or embarrassment, which may arise from communication difficulties.

FIGURE 1. Example of Emotional Support Conversations

(click to enlarge)

Our first example is asking ChatGPT to provide emotional support for older adults with MCI (FIGURE 1). ChatGPT designed an emotional support system to provide empathetic, compassionate, and nonjudgmental support for older adults with cognitive problems. This system engages users in a series of open-ended 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 empathetic, personalized, and accessible conversations, ChatGPT has the potential to support the well-being of older adults with MCI, fostering a greater sense of connection and resilience in the face of cognitive challenges.

Supporting Daily Living

ChatGPT can also assist with daily tasks and routines. By offering reminders for 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 Additionally, 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 living assistant for older adults with MCI (FIGURE 2). It leverages its advanced natural language processing capabilities to design personalized and interactive assistance, helping users maintain their independence and improve their overall quality of life. The assistant, named LifeGuide, provides support to users with various daily tasks and activities. Overall, LifeGuide represents an innovative application of AI technology in supporting daily living. By offering personalized, interactive, and accessible assistance, ChatGPT can play a crucial role in helping older adults with MCI maintain their independence and improve their overall quality of life.

FIGURE 2. Example of LifeGuide Daily Living Support

(click to enlarge)

Accessibility

One of the key benefits of ChatGPT is its accessibility. The AI-based conversational tool can be accessed through various 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, the accessibility of communication technology was crucial in helping older adults socially connect.10 By addressing the digital divide through user-friendly interfaces that cater to the needs of older users experiencing declines in vision, motor skills, or cognitive function, ChatGPT can become an essential tool for older adults with MCI to alleviate loneliness and stay connected.

Challenges and Future Directions

Despite the promising potential of ChatGPT in reducing social isolation and loneliness among older adults with MCI, several challenges must be addressed. First, there is a need for rigorous, evidence-based research to evaluate the effectiveness of ChatGPT in this context. Interventions and longitudinal studies can help assess the long-term impact of ChatGPT on social isolation, loneliness, and overall well-being among older adults with cognitive impairment. Second, ethical considerations must be considered when implementing AI-based tools like ChatGPT. Privacy, data security, and potential biases in AI algorithms must be addressed to ensure the technology is used responsibly and ethically.11,12 Third, addressing the digital divide is crucial for ensuring older adults with MCI can access and benefit from ChatGPT. Providing training and support in using digital devices and making the technology more affordable and accessible can help bridge the gap between older adults and technology.13 Finally, it is essential to acknowledge that ChatGPT should not be considered a substitute for human interaction but rather a supplementary tool to help older adults stay socially engaged. Encouraging and facilitating social interactions with family, friends, and caregivers remains vital for older adults with MCI.

Summary

ChatGPT offers a promising avenue for combating social isolation and loneliness among older adults with MCI. By providing tailored communication, emotional support, daily living, and accessibility, this AI-based conversational tool can enhance quality of life for these individuals. However, further research and development are needed to evaluate its effectiveness, address ethical concerns, and ensure widespread access.

Correspondence to:
Bei Wu, PhD
Rory Meyers College of Nursing, New York University, New York 10010, USA.
Telephone: 212-992-5951
Email: bei.wu@nyu.edu
REFERENCES
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