According to a new survey, senior residents aren’t likely to
be afraid of a mouse unless it has fur and four paws. Increasingly, says
Michigan State University researcher William Chopik, PhD, older Americans are
not only comfortable using computers but they are discovering the joys of
In a survey of 600 older Americans with an average age of
68, more than 95 percent of respondents said they were either “somewhat” or
“very” satisfied with social technology, while 72 percent said they weren’t
opposed to learning to new technologies.
For older adults, especially those who are isolated and can
no longer travel or socialize as much as they had in the past, suggests Chopik,
social media can be a powerful way to communicate with friends and family and
feel connected with the world at large. “They reap the benefits right away,” he
says. In his study, he found that social media use was connected with better
physical and mental health and reduced levels of depression.
“A lot of older adults are self-conscious about struggling
with technology, but they recognize the benefits of using it and are eager to
learn,” Chopik tells Provider. Assisted living and skilled nursing center staff
can help increase residents’ comfort with social media and computers. “Don’t
just throw technology at them or put out a computer and expect them to jump
onto Facebook or Twitter,” he says. Instead, “Help them understand how to use
the various social media outlets,” he says.
It is important for residents to understand the etiquette of
social media. “Caution them not to ‘friend’ or communicate with people they
don’t know, and encourage them to be protective of personal information, even
if they think someone is trustworthy,” Chopik says. “Educate them about what
appropriate behaviors are on social media,” he adds.
For example, a good rule of thumb is that you don’t say
anything on social media that you wouldn’t say publicly. It also is important
for residents to understand that some people can be cruel, vulgar, and unkind
on social media sites, and that it is best to ignore such comments or postings.
Encourage residents to contact the activities director or other staff member if
they are concerned about or uncomfortable with an interaction they have with
someone on social media, Chopik advises. They also should be encouraged to
report anyone who tries to get them to reveal private information such as bank
account or credit card numbers or passwords, he says.
Once residents get started on social media and start to feel
more confident using it, they can connect with family and friends. Staff or
volunteers also can work with them to find social groups they may enjoy—such as
those devoted to certain kinds of music or movies. “This is a great use of
social media in this setting. It can provide connection to the past and evoke
happy memories,” says Chopik.
Family members can keep an eye on an elder loved one via
social media and watch for signs that he or she has a problem or might need help.
For example, sad, melancholy postings might suggest depression or unhappiness.
Nonsensical or unusual postings or a sudden influx of strange new online
‘friends’ may point to early signs of cognitive impairment.
On the flip side, a resident’s Facebook page may suggest
unmet needs and interests that the facility can address. For example, if
someone posts lots of stories and photos about dogs, he or she might be a good
candidate for animal-assisted therapy. A person who ‘likes’ a number of pages
and postings about jazz might enjoy an iPod filled with this type of music.
“People sometimes post things that they don’t necessarily talk about. You can
learn a great deal about someone by looking at their Facebook profile and
postings,” Chopik says.
With seniors expressing more interest in social media,
facilities should be prepared to accommodate them. Offering free wifi, having computer
or social media training workshops, and ensuring residents have access to
computers and tablets will help attract tech-savvy residents and help everyone
enjoy the benefits of social media.
“We often forget the link between loneliness and health and
that when people are isolated, this can lead to depression and a variety of
health problems,” Chopik says. “Connection with others—even when it’s
virtual—can make a positive difference and contribute to better health and
quality of life.”