Data Guide the Way
Experimentations and research guide D@D's development. The scientific literature, collaboration with social science researchers, and Dunrovin's multiple experiments and own primary data collection reveal critical factors on loneliness, social isolation, and the use of technology.
Dr. Keith Anderson, a gerontologist and social science researcher with the University of Montana, conducted a preliminary review of D@D’s effectiveness. He published his findings in The Virtual Care Farm: A Preliminary Evaluation of an Innovative Approach to Addressing Loneliness and Building Community through Nature and Technology. His paper won an award for excellent applied research that offer important implications for the aging services and inspires next practices.
Dr. Anderson's paper prompted the National Council on Aging to invite him and D@D founder, SuzAnne Miller, to give a presentation on D@D at their 2020 Virtual Conference.
In 2019, D@D conducted a six month pilot project with the Brookdale Missoula Valley Senior Residential Community to test its effectiveness in a group residential setting. Dunrovin was enthusiastically embraced by the community residents, staff, and the Lifestyle Director.
D@D is now engaged with a team of researchers from the University of Texas to quantitatively evaluate D@D and measure it effectiveness to alleviate loneliness. This has the potential of leading to D@D obtaining certification as a medical intervention that could be prescribed by physicians and covered by insurance and Medicare.
The first step in our collaboration was a pilot project in the summer of 2021 with several senior residential communities to gather qualitative information on how to best work with enrichment staffs to implement the DaysAtDunrovin program. In the video below, Director of Community Life Enrichment Laurie Jones from SpiriTrust Lutheran Home in Hanover, PA, responds to the question "how did the Dunrovin program compare to other life enrichment programs offered at your community?".
Humans are fundamentally social animals. As hunger drives humans to eat, loneliness drives humans to seek self-valuation and trust through social connections. Similarly, as a person who is starving cannot eat as healthy people do, chronically lonely people may be unable to initiate the social connections they most need.
Social isolation is the objective condition of being alone; loneliness is the subjective condition of feeling alone. While the size of one’s social network and being physically isolated are the top predictors of loneliness, the distinction is important. Loneliness is dispelled by the quality of relationships, not by the number of people socially accessible.
The power of friendship increases with age and may be even more important than family relationships. While it may be counterintuitive, friendships in older adults are stronger predictors of health and happiness than relationships with family members. Family relationships can carry strong emotional burdens that friendships do not.
Friendships take time. Studies show that the average adult needs 50 hours of contact to form a casual friendship, 90 hours for a real friendship, and 200 hours for a close friendship.
Place is a fundamental aspect of humanity. All animals organize the totality of space available to them into places that connect the necessities of life - food, shelter, security, family, tribe. Understanding the place one inhabits is a key to one's survival.
Likewise, place is the trunk of the memory tree for all animals. When wanting someone to remember an important event, such as 9/11, the first question generally asked is "Where were you when...?"
As people come to know a place and associate it with memories and relationships, they endow it with value. Place then takes on deep meanings that impacts people’s engagement, social bonds, and feelings of belonging, security, and happiness.
The University of Washington's website Green Cities: Good Health gives an excellent description of Place Attachment and Meaning. People are programmed to create places out of spaces by defining boundaries and imparting value.
Studies have shown that the absence of a "sense of place" diminishes both comprehension and retention of material presented in online learning classes and inhibits social cohesion among online students.
The fields of positive psychology (study of what makes people happy) and neurology have identified specific factors that contribute to happiness.
- Emotions are contagious. Being around positive people makes others feel positive.
- People feel happy when they contribute to others and have a sense of purpose.
- Showing and receiving gratitude makes people happy.
- Being surrounded by nature and contact with animals contributes to one’s well-being.
- Humor and laughter promote health and well-being.
- Happiness Comes from Intention, Not Luck
D@D member surveys were conducted in 2014 and 2018
Size of Community
- members come from all states & provinces
- 85% are women
- 86% love watching the webcams
- it is an important part of their day for 57%
- 52% often prefer D@D to watching TV
- 37% consider fellow D@D members to be real friends
- watching nature makes 67% happy
- 32% would be lost without D@D
- 22% feel less lonely because of D@D
Importance of Chatting
Less than 20% of D@D members chat. The difference in reported benefits for those who do chat versus those who do not chat are significant and are drivers for DaysAtDunrovin to continually search for ways to draw members into chatting.
Are D@D friendship real?
• 50% YES - chatters
• 12% YES - NON chatters
Are you less lonely because of belonging to D@D?
• 32% YES - chatters
• 12% YES - NON chatters
Do you like and trust Dunrovin Ranch staff?
• 82% YES - chatters
• 58% YES - NON chatters
Dunrovin's experience working with chat rooms have taught many lessons on luring members into chatting:
- People start by simply watching. They may be judging the tone and content of the chat conversations before gaining the confidence to chime in.
- Moderators can effectively encourage participation immediately welcoming newcomers to help them feel at ease.
- Regularly scheduled chat session focused on a range of topics can draw in members with different interests.
- Puzzles, games, cooperative projects, surveys, and group activities that actively solicit responses can break the chatting barrier.
Dunrovin continually experiments collaboratively with its members to discover new ways to not only increase amount of participation but to deepen the level of conversations that lead to more meaningful social exchanges and relationships.
Engagement Beyond Chatting
D@D understands that active engagement is not confined to chatting. D@D opens all forms of communicating with members to bring them into the community. Weekly e-newsletters, personal email exchanges, phone calls, snail mail letter and cards, and even care packages have all been used to increase the level of communication with members.
Understanding the Engagement Process
D@D is collaborating with the University of Texas to study and better understand the progression that leads new members from initial D@D contact through active engagement to bonding and meaningful social relationships. This will enable D@D to develop additional programs and mechanisms to facilitate and expedite the process.