Adequacy of Web-Based Activities as a Substitute for In-Person Activities for Older Persons during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Survey Study

Jiska Cohen-Mansfield*, Aline Muff, Guy Meschiany, Shahar Lev-Ari

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Background: Senior centers and other types of clubs provide activities for older adults to address boredom, social isolation, and loneliness. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most of these activities have been cancelled. A limited range of web-based activities have been offered as alternatives. However, the effectiveness of these web-based group activities for older adults has scarcely been researched. Objective: We aimed to understand the extent to which web-based activities for older adults provide an adequate substitute for in-person activities. Methods: In this telephone survey, we interviewed 105 older adults in Israel who had been offered the opportunity to participate in web-based activities after routine activities closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Of the total sample, 49/105 (46.7%) participated in the activities and 56/105 (53.3%) did not. We inquired about the respondents'background characteristics, satisfaction with the activities, and reasons for participation or nonparticipation. Results: The respondents who participated in the web-based activities tended to be highly satisfied with at least some of them. They rated the enjoyment derived from the content of the activity as the most important motivator, followed by maintaining a routine and by enjoying the group and the presence of others. Over 50% of the participants (28/49, 57%) wished to continue with the exercise programming after the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, and 41% (20/49) wished to continue with the web-based lectures. Participants were more likely to report partaking in alternative activities than nonparticipants (P=.04). The most common reasons cited by nonparticipants were being unaware of the web-based program (24/56, 43%) despite a notification having been sent to the entire sample, lack of interest in the content (18/56, 32%), and technical issues (13/56, 23%), such as not owning or being able to fully use a computer. Both participants and nonparticipants were interested in a wide range of topics, with many being very particular about the topics they wished to access. Approximately half expressed willingness to pay for access; those who were willing to pay tended to have more years of education (P=.03). Conclusions: Our findings suggest a need for web-based activities for countering boredom and feelings of isolation. The main factors that influence the use, efficacy, and sustainability of online activities are access, motivational and need-fulfilling factors, and whether the activities are sufficiently tailored to individuals' preferences and abilities. Challenges in substituting in-person services are promoting social relationships that are currently not sufficiently incorporated into most web-based programs, accommodating a wider range of topics, and increasing the accessibility of current programs to older adults, especially those who are homebound, both during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Original languageEnglish
Article number25848
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021


  • Activities
  • Activity
  • Boredom
  • Covid-19
  • Effectiveness
  • Elderly
  • Engagement
  • Isolation
  • Loneliness
  • Older adult
  • Online activity
  • Pandemic
  • Senior
  • Social engagement
  • Technology barriers for seniors
  • Web-based venues for older adults


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