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Friends & Community: The Benefits of Social Media for Seniors

Rita Dichele - December 26, 2016 11:18 AM

In 2010, the popular medical journal The New England Journal of Medicine published an article on how to keep our brain cells stimulated.   The authors referred to this process as “productive aging,” which is also known as successful aging.  Along with the news from this publication and other research articles, productive aging can result in lowering the chances of getting dementia.  Productive aging can be achieved by stimulating our cognitive functions.

One way is to stimulate your loved ones minds is to occupy their time with social engagements.  However, seniors can be reluctant to socialize especially if this means making new friends.  Unfortunately, seniors can begin to isolate as family members and friends start to die.  This can be part of aging that can be unpleasant to face.  So, seniors might stay away from social activities.  Nevertheless, it is important for caregivers to help their loved ones build upon and nourish relationships.  Because of physical limitations, cognitive functioning, and chronic health conditions, seniors might be prevented from making those social connections that caregivers can take for granted.

Social Media

As such, a positive way to meet new friends as well as reestablish old ones is through social media, which can become in itself a leisure activity.  A positive experience with a social media site can lead to greater life satisfaction.  

The research supports this.  For instance, the Pew Research Report in 2014 stated that because of ties to social media use, today’s seniors can have much satisfaction in five areas of their lives by preserving a sense of community, being a consumer advocate, having family contact, improved health, and work/volunteer opportunities.   Furthermore, it is an excellent way for the disabled and the chronically sick to stay socially connected, decreasing isolation and increasing their leisure activities.
Benefits

•    Staying close to family, sharing photos/videos
•    Providing peace of mind to caregivers for those loved ones living alone
•    Community engagement
•    Instruction, news, comedy outlets
•    Reconnecting with old friends, classmates, and former neighbors
•    Monitoring health conditions

Barriers

•    Computer/broadband access
•    Trust of sites
•    Privacy concerns
•    Technical Skills
•    Understanding the purpose
•    Cognitive limitations
•    Confidence levels
•    Computer literacy
•    Hand dexterity
•    Vision

Interesting Sites

•    Facebook:  A popular social network site especially among older adults with 1 billion users
•    LinkedIn: A professional social networking site with approximately 347 million users
•    Twitter:  284 million active users and 500 million tweets a day.
•    Pinterest: This media revolves around the concept of "pinning" photos, web pages, articles, and other content onto virtual noticeboards, then sharing them with people - 72.8 million users.

Notable Information

•    79% of Americans use social media
•    35% of Americans 65+ use social media
•    68% of Americans between 70-75 use the Internet
•    55% have broadband at home between 70-75
•    47% of Americans between 75-79 use the Internet
•    34% have broadband at home between 75-79

Caregivers’ Roles

Caregivers can encourage their loved ones to use social media.  For instance, caregivers can share their own experiences on some of the sites, i.e., Facebook.  In addition, caregivers can help by showing how to connect with family members, former neighbors, and old classmates.

 It is, however, important for caregivers to perhaps keep a watchful eye as their loved ones learn how to use these sites; keeping in mind that these popular sites can have risks of use because of hackers, spammers, virus writers, identity thieves and other criminals.

With the expanded capabilities of the Internet and several social media sites, senior loneliness and abandonment may not be eliminated but might be lessened.

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