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Stanford Medicine

Aging, Mental Health, Technology

Elderly adults turn to social media to stay connected, stave off loneliness

Elderly adults turn to social media to stay connected, stave off loneliness

If you were shocked when your parents joined Facebook, wait until your grandfather, or great-grandmother, friends you. It might just happen: As reported by the Atlantic, more and more elderly adults, including some centenarians, are learning how to use Facebook and other social networking sites to maintain relationships with family and friends and prevent loneliness and depression.

The article highlights senior citizens’ rapid adoption of social media and includes comments from Stanford’s Laura Carstensen, PhD, on how the technologies can improve quality of life for individuals living apart from friends and relatives:

The 74-plus demographic is the fastest growing demographic among social networks, according to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, and social networking among Internet users ages 65 and older grew 100 percent between April 2009 and May 2010, jumping from 13 percent to 26 percent. Facebook, Twitter, and Skype all show the most growth in the older adult demographic and with 39 million people currently aged 65 and older — and an estimated 55 million by 2020 — social networks are sure to continue to see a surge in their older base.

In a panel at last year’s Annual Scientific Meeting on Aging, Dr. Laura Carstensen, the director of Stanford University’s Center on Longevity, explained that social networking is proving more and more to be an entrance into technology for older adults. As a gateway, the vastness of the Web seems less intimidating, and many of the fears they have about computers and technology are put at ease when placed in the context of a community like Facebook. Carstensen likened the site to genealogy on steroids — a source of instant connection for adults who live increasingly isolated lives in assisted living facilities and away from their families, often struggling with depression as a result.

The full story, which is worth taking the time to read, also mentions interesting research from the University of Alabama showing that older adults who were active on the Internet experienced a 30 percent decrease of depressive symptoms.

Previously: Can good friends help you live longer?, Is an addiction to Facebook indicative of deeper emotional issues?, How patients use social media to foster support systems, connect with physicians and Can you catch loneliness?
Photo by Sooraj Shajahan

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