According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 11 million or 28% of people aged 65 and older lived alone in 2013 and those numbers continue to rise. Due to divorce or death of a spouse, seniors who live alone are more prone to loneliness and depression than those who live with a partner. This phenomenon is even more prevalent now as more and more adults do not have children to care for or spend time with them.
Not only do seniors living alone have an increased risk of depression, the National Center for Elder Abuse also shows a connection between social isolation and higher rates of abuse. This could be due to the fact that they are isolated and more likely to fall victim to abuse or it could simply be that those seniors who live alone do not know how to communicate to anyone that they are in danger.
It’s not just seniors living alone who are at risk for isolation, however. Even those who live with a partner, with family members or in a retirement community often experience the pain and loneliness that comes with children and grandchildren being far away or their lifelong friends becoming ill or passing away. Social connection, while important in every age demographic, becomes vitally important in those over 65.
While joining communities, seeking out new friendships and getting involved in hobbies are all ways to connect, one way that seems to be appealing more and more to this generation is social media. In fact, social media use among those ages 50 and older nearly doubled in recent years and at least one of every four seniors 65 and older are now using social media in some form. According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, the 74-plus demographic is the fastest growing demographic among social networks. In a survey conducted in September of 2014, the Center found that, for the first time, more than half of all online adults 65 and older use Facebook, which represents 31% of all seniors.
The benefits of social media for seniors are nearly too many to mention. Some of the most important include:
- Connection to family. It’s rare to meet someone 65+ who does not have children or grandchildren living in a different city, different state or even different country. Though they may get to visit them in person on weekends or holidays, being able to see pictures and videos of them on social media and be able to send personal messages on a regular basis is invaluable. Most young people are too technology-focused to pick up the phone and call aging relatives, but they’ll be happy to send a private message via Facebook.
- Connection to friends. Even those who live in senior communities can benefit from the ease of finding new friends and connecting with old ones via Facebook. I remember the joy on one 80-year-old woman’s face as we showed her how to find a friend she went to school with 70 years ago on Facebook. Imagine connections being renewed between those who fought in wars together or experienced the women’s liberation movement side by side.
- It’s good for their health. Even the games featured on sites like Facebook can enrich people as they age. According to a 2013 study in Computers in Human Behavior, seniors who indulge in casual gaming on social media sites report less depression and better well-being, health and social functioning. Gaming and an active social life also may have an impact on the rate of mental decline in seniors as well. Harvard School of Public Health researchers found that memory decline among the most sociable was less than half the rate among the least sociable.
With striking facts such as these, it makes you wonder why all seniors aren’t on social media. While some do not have access to computers, tablets or Smartphones (a declining problem), the biggest reason remains that they just don’t know how to do it. Remember, this is a generation that grew up largely without televisions or phones of any type. Adjusting to a world where technology changes daily, it’s not surprising that many seniors feel lost when it comes to social media.
The good news is, there are more and more resources available for seniors who want to get connected via social media. Classes are widely available and more senior living communities are making training available for their residents and other seniors who are interested in getting social. Even the American Association for Retired Persons (AARP) has a chunk of their website devoted to training members on social media. In this day and age, there really is no reason for anyone, especially those who can benefit as much as seniors, to not be on social media. Get involved today and start experiencing the benefits!