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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.
By Andrew Vaz
March 17, 2017
Now, I wouldn’t be honest if I compiled this column without stating that social media is not a domain strictly for the younger population for our world. The elderly are frequent users of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and many others platforms in existence. My parents, computer novices whom are a part of this community, are frequent users of Facebook — I actually created their account for them and they often visit my page and make comments on my posts. Yes, social media and the elders are no longer considered mutually exclusive.
The only item that should be addressed regarding the use of social media by other elders, is how to make our favorite platforms such as Facebook more user-friendly for seniors.
Health Benefits of Social Media use for Seniors
Making social media platforms more user-friendly for seniors helps with social isolation and the feeling of loneliness. To be clear, social isolation and loneliness are not the same thing: for example, someone may be surrounded by many people but still feel alone. Other people may isolate themselves because they prefer to be alone. The effect on longevity, however, is much the same for those two scenarios.
Thus, the lack of positive relationships where there is communication can be debilitating to seniors who do not have regular contact with other people. Social media, for seniors, can help to mitigate the effects of loneliness by helping them to feel more connected to friends and family.
Social media can serve as an outlet for building groups devoted to health issues, such as dementia. Doctors and other professionals have keyed into this demographic and set up social media pages to take advantage of this customer and patient outlet. Groups for the elderly experiencing specific ailments as well as groups directed at their caregivers are all set up for those elderly who are increasingly availing themselves of this supportive network.
Finding Employment for Seniors on Social Media
Seniors are turning to social media to look for employment: platforms such as LinkedIn are available to seniors looking for work or volunteering opportunities. Plenty of job resources have moved to online posting that older people looking for work need to go online just to find good opportunities. Seniors increasingly use social media to join support groups and search out volunteer opportunities.
AARP estimates more than 3 million workers age 50-plus are looking for full-time employment. Unfortunately, there’s also a rise in reports of discrimination against older adults in the workplace. This is terrible as older workers present years of experience and discipline for any employer. According to an AARP study, health care workers over the age of 55 had the highest level of employee engagement, which greatly correlates with employer loyalty, performing well with little supervision and motivation to do their very best.
LinkedIn has caught on to the idea of getting the elderly to use social media to connect with potential employers. In today’s current employment environment, 65 is no longer the retirement age and seniors want to work longer and earn more savings.
Improving technology education for seniors
To improve social media interaction for seniors, we must improve technology education. Research shows the Internet has become an important way to exercise the minds of seniors: when the elderly are trained in the use of social media as well as Skype and email, they perform better cognitively and experience improved health. Computer classes at senior centers are growing in popularity. Classes on computer basics as well as instruction in using email and other social media platforms such as Facebook have become more common.
As I mentioned earlier, my parents are active on Facebook. However, they are interested in research and adore searching on Google and enquiring on topics of their interests. Seniors can use social media tools to learn more about topics that interest them. In some cases it can lead them to cultivate hobbies and business ideas, and in other cases, such as with all the inaccurate health information available, it can be a confusing mix of resources.
The importance of improving technology education will lead to more seniors becoming involved in social media as through the evidence based on research, the elder are becoming more active with these platforms and it is helping to improve their health and their relationships with family and friends.
In the coming decades, social media platforms will take towards the elderly as the current population of young people age. It is pleasant to know the generations of seniors in the future will be more computer proficient then the generations of the past.
Author: Andrew R Vaz, M.Sc., M.P.A. is a doctoral student in public policy and administration program at Walden University. He is a graduate of the Master of Science in Criminal Justice and Master of Public Administration double master’s program at Florida International University. He can be reached at [email protected].