Mitzi always enjoyed the newsy letters, cards and photos that filled her mailbox as the holidays approached. But last year, only a handful arrived! Mitzi sighed, “Don’t people send holiday cards anymore?” “Oh, Mom,” said her daughter. “No one writes a Christmas letter now — everyone already knows what’s happening from Facebook!” So Mitzi created a Facebook account and quickly found an ongoing source of news from her family members and friends.

Mitzi is not alone. “Despite the attention that the digital divide has garnered in recent years, a large proportion of older adults use technology to maintain their social networks and make their lives easier,” reported Michigan State University researcher William Chopik. “In fact, there may be portions of the older population that use technology as often as younger adults.”

Seniors are using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media sites, but in this article, we will primarily focus on Facebook, because that’s the platform of choice for most senior users.

The benefits of social media

Mental stimulation and a window to the world. Some research has found seniors who use social media increase their working memory and speed of information processing. A steady stream of information from social media can be accessed right in the home — a great benefit for older adults who have trouble getting out and about due to mobility challenges or sensory loss. (Learn about Facebook accessibility features here.)

Social opportunities. Experts acknowledge that nothing takes the place of in-person socialization, but a number of studies show online socializing provides a genuine sense of connection. “Certain things you do on Facebook can give you gratification, like fulfilling the needs for activity, having interactions with others, having a greater sense of agency, and building community,” noted Penn State University communications professor S. Shyam Sundar. “This is important, especially for older adults who might be aging in place, because they have mobility constraints that limit their ability to socialize.”

Enhancing family connections. Most seniors who create a Facebook account do so to keep up with family. Those who don’t can miss out and feel excluded, because families today often stay in regular communication through social media. University of Notre Dame experts say that all those photos of babies, birthdays and trips in your news feed serve to “revive dormant connections,” keeping relationships top of mind. Some seniors just lurk, to see what’s up with the grandkids — but how gratifying for Grandpa to put up a photo of his fishing trip and garner lots of likes!

Making new friends and keeping the old. Not so long ago, if we lost touch with a childhood friend or someone we used to work with, that would be the end of that. Today, seniors are amazed that Facebook reconnects them with people they haven’t seen in years. It also lets us meet new people with whom we have a lot in common. With 2.5 billion people using the platform, we’re sure to find a group devoted to our particular interests — say, quilting, cooking with mushrooms, or the history of our town. Social media allow us to interact with people whose paths would never have crossed ours in the past. This includes valuable intergenerational connections and easier participation by people with disabilities.

Online support groups. Seniors who are dealing with health challenges benefit tremendously by talking with others in the same situation. Family caregivers, too, can really use the ear of someone who’s “been there, done that.” There are in-person support groups, but today more people are meeting those needs in Facebook groups, where they can get advice and find a virtual hug. For example, a recent University of Michigan study found that seniors living with chronic pain who took part in an online support group experienced a decrease in depression. Said researcher Shannon Ang, “This is critical because the onset of pain can often lead to a downward spiral of social isolation and depression, resulting in adverse outcomes for the health of older adults.” The overriding message of these groups: “You are not alone.”

Social media pitfalls to avoid



Article submitted from by Pat France, MSRN Member