Watch out, Facebook – Seniors Like Social Media


The following article appeared in the January 13, 2016 edition of the Los Altos Town Crier.

Town Crier File Photo

In today’s busy world, more and more people are connecting daily via social media versus in person.

Although many of us would prefer face-to-face interaction, if it’s not possible, the next best thing is readily available for anyone with an Internet connection or smartphone.

As many seniors are discovering, social media can be a wonderful way to stay connected with friends and family and help improve their quality of life.

Studies reveal that seniors who use social media sites reduce their chances of cognitive decline and enjoy better health as a result. According to a Pew Research Study, 35 percent of Americans ages 65 and older use social media. Among seniors who use the Internet, 71 percent go online every day or nearly every day, and 11 percent go online three to five times per week.

Connection and socialization

For a variety of reasons – such as physical distance from family members and/or lack of mobility – some older adults often have difficulty connecting with friends and family members in person. For such seniors, social networking sites can offer an additional venue for connection and socializing with others – and indeed, older adults who use social networking sites such as Facebook are more likely to regularly socialize with friends, whether online, in person or over the telephone, compared with seniors who are not social networking site users.

The benefits of using social media include:

• A sense of belonging. The need to belong is an essential part of human nature. A multitude of psychological theories support this assertion, including Epstein’s Cognitive-Experiential Self-Theory, which specifies four needs or functions that all individuals must satisfy, one of which is relatedness, or feeling a sense of closeness with others.

Through a social media connection, seniors who are often isolated at home can feel connected to others all times of the day and evening.

• Correspondence with family and friends. Family members are often working all day and taking care of their immediate families after work and are not able to visit with seniors as often as they would like. Social media can provide a way to connect with family members while standing in line at the bank, waiting in the doctor’s office or on lunch breaks. Want to catch up with Great-Uncle Bob but only have a few minutes between meetings? Now you can log on to social media and connect with him immediately.

• Photo and video viewing. Gone are the days of poring over handheld photographs of family get-togethers. With the advent of digital media, handheld photos are few and far between. Beyond receiving the occasional framed picture from family members, seniors rarely have the opportunity to view photos of friends and family. Social media sites give them the opportunity to see their grandchildren in action – and sharing a photo is instantaneous. Seniors may not have the mobility to attend Johnny’s soccer game, but viewing pictures from that afternoon’s goal shot? Well, that’s just a simple click away.

• Community involvement. Using social media gives seniors the opportunity to be active members of the community by connecting with local groups and organizations that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to. Grandma wants to join a baking club for seniors in her area but is unable to attend the group meetings? Not to worry – she can get all of the recipes at the touch of her fingertips from their Facebook page.

How can seniors get connected?

When asked in a recent study how they would learn how to use a new technology device such as a tablet or a smartphone, only a small number of seniors – 18 percent – expressed comfort with learning how to do so without assistance, while 77 percent indicated that they would need someone to help them.

Make a date for grandparents and children to spend a half an hour setting up a social media account such as Facebook – or attend the linkAges TimeBank Technology for Seniors event Jan. 30 (see above sidebar) – and let the connections begin.

Greg Hartwell is managing director and CEO of Homecare California, a Los Altos-based in-home caregiving agency. He is a frequent guest speaker on elder-care issues. For more information, visit homecare-california.com or facebook.com/Homecare.California.

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