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A Case for a Dynamic Computer Program in Senior Communities

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By Sarah Jennings “Social relationships, or the relative lack thereof, constitute a major risk factor for health—rivaling the effect of well-established health risk factors such as cigarette smoking, blood pressure, blood lipids, obesity and physical activity” -- —House, Landis, and Umberson; Science 1988

It’s been proven that having a diverse set of personal relationships and social outlets can help lengthen and enrich older adults’ lives, but only recently are caregivers and researchers realizing that online social media activities can aid tremendously in the lives of senior citizens. Social media use can never fully replace face-to-face interaction, but for many older adults who might otherwise be suffering from loneliness or depression, using a social media site like Facebook to keep in touch with friends and relatives has proven clinically effective at driving away the blues. Specifically, a recent study has indicated that internet use correlates with a 20% reduction in depression symptoms and that the overall mental well-being of older adults is improved by internet use, particularly from a perspective of maintaining cognitive memory abilities. So for caregivers, retirement living facility employees or anyone with aging parents, introducing your loved one to the benefits of the internet or social media sites can be very beneficial. But what if they are doubtful about their desire or ability to learn about computers? Well, tempt them with the social and mentally beneficial aspects of social media and other web sites. And know that if the seniors living in your community are going to truly benefit from the use of the net, they will need help understanding how it all works. Older adults who otherwise would be hesitant to bother with the hassle of learning about computers and the Internet are often convinced to enter the digital age by the lure of staying connected with friends and family. But for seniors who are somewhat less than tech-savvy, navigating social media sites can be a daunting task.

On the other hand, when the learning curve is overcome, it provides older adults with a fascinating and unprecedented avenue to keep in touch with friends and family and also locate and reconnect with loved ones who have drifted away over the years. Research shows that the primary reasons that seniors join Facebook are to connect with family and old friends, to share pictures and to enjoy social gaming. But the new information and studies described above shows the benefits of Facebook for older adults might be a heck of a lot more than sharing pictures or accumulating friends.  So there are many good reasons for older Americans to take advantage of these new and exciting communication tools.  And they are – in rapidly increasing numbers. Social media use, in particular, among older adults has skyrocketed in the past year or so. Almost 11% of the overall Facebook community is classified as senior citizens.

That’s a fifteen-fold jump in just the last two years. But let’s face it, for as many positive attributes that a social community like Facebook brings, it also comes with heavy doses of annoyances and perplexities. Between privacy concerns, scammers/spammers and over-the-top marketing techniques, there are a lot of questions to be answered and a lot of garbage to wade through that even experienced social media users find difficult. So caregivers, whether in-home or in an assisted living community, need to thoroughly guide older adults through the process of understanding how things work, and then be there to assist and answer questions. Be patient with them, the learning curve can be steep for someone with limited computer experience, but once they get the hang of it, they should be able to cruise right along – and they’ll have the confidence to do so knowing that you will be there to help them if they get confused.

Sarah Jennings has been taking care of others her whole life. In 2005, she moved her mother into her family home. She uses her personal experience to share with others about caring for the elderly. She currently writes on behalf of Brookdale Independent Senior Housing.

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