Older adults benefit from social media more than the younger generation
Many psychological studies have linked negative health impacts from increased social media use. Most of these studies attribute health impacts to the younger generation (Millennials, Gen X and Gen Z), however social media seems to have more of a positive effect for older adults.
Internet use has been shown to reduce the risk of depression by as much as 33% for older adults. One study found that older adults who use Facebook show marked improvements in cognitive function. Another study found similar results when older adults were trained to use email, Skype, and Facebook.
In support of this, most of the studies revealing depression and envy is linked to sites like Facebook that compare themselves to others. Depression is tied to an increase of jealous feelings and lower self-esteem. Since most older adults use Facebook for keeping in contact with family and friends – and is their primary reason for using social media – their risk of depression is unlikely to increase.
Another benefit of social media use for older adults is reducing the feeling of isolation for those not close to friends and family. Social isolation is linked to depression, and by regularly communicating to friends and family through online channels, may help reduce this.
With all of these benefits linking social media to older adults, it makes sense that the latest numbers in Facebook demographics show the Over 60s as being the most passionate and active (read our article, Over 60s become Facebook’s most passionate users).
With this in mind, it is extremely important to mention that social media use should not replace spending time in the physical presence of others. Whilst social media use can alleviate some of these effects, it’s not enough on its own. If older adults and their families start to treat social media as a replacement for in-person interaction, that could put a greater percentage of seniors at risk for feelings of isolation and loneliness.
In short, social media platforms such as Facebook is a positive tool for older adults, seniors, families, and senior care providers. But it’s something that should be approached with a degree of caution.
Maintaining meaningful social relationships is widely regarded as one of the key elements of aging well. Geographical distance to kin, impaired mobility or time-consuming obligations such as caregiving may hinder older adults from satisfying the need for social contact, with the risk that these adults feel lonely, but have little opportunity to engage in social contact. Social media may overcome these barriers as online social networks and online discussion forums can be used to engage in social contact regardless of geographical location or time. Moreover, social media provides new possibilities to engage in social contact, to provide and receive support, and to raise feelings of control.
Though social media and technology aren’t all bad. They can bring connectivity, ease, information, and excitement into our lives. Ultimately, it’s about how you use social media that matters when it comes to your health and well-being. But maybe we should also consider putting our devices down more often.
Remember, if distance is the cause of increased social media use, there are other community groups and forums to participate in online – Read our blog ‘7 reasons why you should join an online community’.
– Anderson, M., Perrin, A. (2017). Tech adoption climbs among older adults. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center.
– Carstensen, L. L. (1992). Motivation for social contact across the life span: A theory of socioemotional selectivity. In Jacobs, J. E. (Ed.), Developmental perspectives on motivation (Vol. 40, pp. 209–254). Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska.
– Carstensen, L. L., Mikels, J. A. (2005). At the intersection of emotion and cognition: Aging and the positivity effect. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14, 117–121. doi:10.1111/j.0963-7214.2005.00348.x
– Social Media Use of Older Adults: A Mini-Review, Anja K Leist, April 2013, DOI: 10.1159/000346818. Read more
– Social media could help older people in pain. Here’s how. World Economic Forum. Read more