While social media is largely associated with a younger audience, we’d be mistaken to think it’s solely the domain of today’s youth. Our Real Retirement report shows that nearly half of (43%) of 65-74 year olds use social media at least once every day.
But with the press often putting social media to blame for feelings of loneliness and even depression amongst younger users, should we be concerned? Apparently not. Studies show that by bridging geographic gaps between older adults and their loved ones and allowing them to connect with likeminded people, it may be helping to reduce feelings of loneliness, isolation and even improve cognitive ability.
We spoke to Dr Alison Attrill-Smith, Senior Lecturer in Cyber Psychology at the University of Wolverhampton, about the key benefits social media can have amongst the older generation:
“One of the most prevalent benefits of social media amongst older adults is the effect on cognitive functions. Maintaining the ability to navigate and use the Internet, and social media specifically, can help maintain one’s faculties.”
Take a look at some of the other ways social media is benefitting those in later life:
These days, most photos get taken on digital devices like smartphones, and while we may be sent some if we’re lucky, many of them don’t ever make it to print. Being able to go on Facebook and Instagram allows us to see all the latest photos that have been posted by our friends and families who have shared them, helping us stay in the loop.
Rifling through directories to look someone up has never been an easy task. Social media offers an easy way to track down old friends from school or connect with someone you met at book club. It provides a casual platform on which to stay in touch with someone who you may not want to spend ages on the phone with, but you still wouldn’t mind checking in on once in a while.
Ever feel like it can be hard to get all the family in the room at once? Group chat is the next best thing to having all your family in one place. Whether you’re trying to find a date on which you’re all free for a get together or you’re sharing the odd life update, it’s a nice way to stay connected without having to send the same text or have the same phone call several times.
People travel more than ever before, but social media platforms like Skype allow us, not only to chat with a loved one, but to see their face and interact with them as if they were in the same room:
“If we think of apps like Skype and Facetime, many older people have learned how to use these to stay in touch with loved ones the world over”, says Dr Attrill-Smith. “It makes their separation from their families easier.”
Being on Twitter or Facebook can help people feel part of a movement, particularly in times of social change. With only a hashtag on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram making your post visible to those beyond your following, it’s easier to be part of a wider conversation.
In the same way it gives people the opening to have their voices heard, social media can provide a way in which to interact with likeminded people. Dr Attrill-Smith commented: “Use the tools to your advantage to connect with likeminded others – there are lots of groups and discussion forums on social media that are out in the open and public.” You may be only a few clicks away from finding someone who shares your political opinion in an online debate, for instance.
Whether it’s finding an event or a group that connects you to people with a shared hobby, such as a local walking club, it provides a great opening to interact with online and offline communities.
Dr Attrill-Smith suggests using social media as a way to connect with the local community: “The best way to use the Internet to combat loneliness is to use it as a tool to find out what is going on in your local community. There might be activities out there that you just weren’t aware of. Use it to facilitate meeting people offline.”
While the world of social media might seem like a scary one at first, it’s not long before you find your feet. Dr Attrill-Smith suggests finding the right people to show you the ropes: “This is a great opportunity to bond with younger people in your family. If you don’t have family members who can help, ask a friend, or an organisation. Most organisations, such as Age UK, will have people who can help with these things.”
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