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The Elderly and Social Media

Social media is too often portrayed as teenage territory. Read on to learn about the benefits of social media in the lives of the elderly. READING TIME: 2 MINUTES

Social media is more prevalent in our lives than ever. With this prevalence not only comes controversy and effects— low self-esteem, addiction, FOMO (fear of missing out)— but age stereotypes as well. Film and TV portray teenagers as selfie-taking, distracted people with our thumbs and minds glued to our phones, adults as trying to imitate and relate to the slang and trends of teenagers, and the elderly as completely clueless to the internet world.

A large gap in social media use exists between teenagers and the elderly, with teenagers averaging three hours of use per day versus less than an hour by the elderly. Only 34% of Americans and 25% of British over the age of 65 use social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter (2,3). This likely can be attributed to the lack of inclusivity and encouragement for the elderly to join social networking sites, leading them to believe the stereotype that they are “too old” or that it is “too hard” to use. These perceptions, however, deter the elderly from experiencing incredible social benefits.

An older person who uses social media might reconnect with friends, or even make new ones. This empowerment (3) will allow them to contribute to discussions and upload their own pictures and proud moments for their friends and family to see. Social media can also lead them to the opportunity of finding new hobbies and ideas or simply just entertain them with infinite amounts of funny videos, TedTalks, and more. Also, businesses that advertise senior discounts and sales will reach their target audience much easier if their target audience is engaged with the platform. Research has shown that elderly who utilize social networks are at an advantage even beyond social aspects, and more should be done to help them engage.

Current formal research on the elderly and their social media use does focus solely on the benefits —as opposed to the dangers investigated in teenage use— but the benefits are amazing. According to Kelly Quinn’s study on the cognitive effects of social media use in older adults, “the benefits of social media use at older ages extend into other domains of everyday well-being” (4). The degradation of cognitive function as one ages is a challenge that we all have to face, however, the study showed that social media is cognitively stimulating for the elderly. It provides them with the opportunity to challenge themselves and learn new concepts, effectively improving their cognitive function. Sites such as Facebook and Twitter require the processing of information and allow for reflection and contribution. Even simple birthday reminders improve working memory and attention.

While dangers such as scams and fraud exist, stronger privacy settings and protection implemented by Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram will help reduce the threats. Caregivers and family should help the elderly get connected to social networking sites and patiently help them learn how to use them. Social media may just be the key that unlocks the elderly’s door to the digital world.

Social Media
Image from stocksnap.io

(1) Salim, Saima. “How Much Time Do You Spend on Social Media? Research Says 142
Minutes per Day.” Digital Information World, 4 Jan. 2019,
http://www.digitalinformationworld.com/2019/01/how-much-time-do-people-spend-social
media-infographic.html.

(2) Anderson, Monica, and Andrew Perrin. “Technology Use among Seniors.” Pew
Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech
, Pew Research Center: Internet, Science &

      Tech, 17 May 2017, http://www.pewinternet.org/2017/05/17/technology-use-among-seniors/.

(3) Lazar, Barbara. “Social Networks and the Elderly.” CareNET, 2 Dec. 2013,
      http://www.carenetproject.eu/social-networks-and-the-elderly/?lang=en.

(4) Quinn, Kelly. “Cognitive Effects of Social Media Use: A Case of Older Adults.” Social
Media + Society
, July 2018.

(5) Verrecchia, Fabrizio. Featured image of elderly man taking photo.
      https://stocksnap.io/photo/PF43WRU0XB

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