A Hot Trend:
The Internet, Social Media
& the Elderly
Many might think that social media is the exclusive domain of the younger generation. However, many of our older adults have enthusiastically adopted it to keep up with the times as well as their old acquaintances and younger family members. Grandparents are becoming proficient in alien things like Skype and Facebook and liking it. It has become a healthy emotional outlet and word of its benefits has spread like wildfire among the elderly.
According to the Pew Research Center, internet use among those 65 and older grew 150% between 2009 and 2011, the largest growth in a demographic group. Furthermore, their 2012 study showed that of those that go online, 71% do so daily and 34% use social media. The elderly use these tools to bridge the geographic gap between them and their loved ones far away and as a way to re-connect with friends from a far off time. Studies show that the internet has become an important portal for reducing isolation, loneliness and other depressive symptoms.
Seniors emphasize the informational and educational aspects of the internet using it in an encyclopedic fashion to visit government sites or research financial issues. Many of the elderly have uncovered the beauty of the digital travelogue and the value of having a book review available through a simple click. This gateway to the outside world is critical once the elderly become homebound. While teens have moved on from Facebook, the older generation has found that it serves them quite well. Seniors have discovered that Skyping is a great way to bring relatives from faraway destinations right into their living rooms. Twitter has become popular for keying into specific news sections they want to follow.
While their younger counterparts use social media in a “selfie” sort of way, the elderly, who are very sensitive to privacy issues, use it to connect with like-minded individuals. They use it for health information and to connect with others experiencing the same challenges. They have recognized that others in their stations in life are also online and have used it to start discussion groups for life and health issues pertinent to them. From dementia to depression to diabetes – all can give and receive support in the comfort and convenience of their home. Doctors and other professionals have keyed into this demographic and set up social media pages to take advantage of this customer and patient outlet. Groups for the elderly experiencing specific ailments as well as groups directed at their caregivers are all set up for those elderly who are increasingly availing themselves of this supportive network.
Computer classes at senior centers are growing in popularity. Classes on computer basics as well as instruction in using email and other social media platforms such as Facebook have become more common. In fact, the Jewish Council for the Aging in Washington, D.C. offers an entire Senior Tech program. DorotUSA.org has a whole program called University Without Walls specifically designed for seniors who are homebound where they get to participate in stimulating classes and lectures through their computer or tablet. Local AARP chapters also offer computer basics classes and sometimes partner with vendors for discounts on the hardware.
Research shows the internet has become an important way to exercise the minds of seniors. A new study out of England and Italy finds that when the elderly are trained in the use of social media as well as Skype and email, they perform better cognitively and experience improved health. During a two year period, 120 seniors in the UK and Italy aged 65 and above were given specially designed computer training and were compared against a control group that did not receive any. Among those that used these tools, the mental and physical capacity improved as opposed to a steady decline experienced in the control group. One woman reported feeling “invigorated” rather than “slipping into a slower pace” and caring more about her appearance and losing weight. It seems that satisfying our basic social needs can have synergistic effects for our overall health.
Overcoming loneliness is that much easier through the internet and social media. As more and more of the population ages and sticks closer to home, the internet as a support and educational tool becomes ever more important. Technology has greatly ameliorated the potential of our seniors feeling isolated and alone. Let’s help them take advantage!