As time goes by, one’s social circles can shrink. People can move to different cities, change jobs, retire, and the list goes on. This can make it tough to keep in touch with family and friends, and can lead to social isolation.
Social isolation, as Rachel Seligman of Revolution Health notes, can directly affect physical health:
Those who are socially isolated are likely at greater risk for heart disease and other ailments, according to research. In one study done at the University of California, Irvine, in 2002, Ph.D. candidate Dara Sorkin surveyed 180 elderly men and women and found that those who were lonelier had a higher risk of heart disease. The researchers asked questions to ascertain loneliness and support systems, and conducted medical tests to find participants’ disease risk. Just a small increase in perceived emotional support resulted in a large reduction of disease risk, according to the study.
One advantage seniors have in the 21st century that they did not have before is social media. Many perceive the barrier to entry on these platforms — Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc. — to be a bit daunting. Once embraced, however, they can have an immediate and tangible impact, helping you stay connected with your friends and family no matter how far apart you live.
One of the great tools for breaking down this barrier is CommonCraft, a company that specializes in translating highly complex and technical information into plain English. CommonCraft offers videos available on YouTube that break down and explain Internet concepts in simple terms for the beginner. If you, or someone in your family wants to learn basic computer and online skills, these videos are a great start.
Once comfortable with the computer, it is time to get social. Once you’re active in social media, you’ll find that an amazing array of peers are already online. Seniors are a massive and growing demographic in the social media space, just take a look at some of the numbers from Pew Internet’s most recent study on the subject:
- Between April 2009 and May 2010, Internet users between 50 and 64 years of age increased adoption of social media by 88% (from 25% to 47% of users).
- Over that same time span, use among those 65 and older grew 100% (from 13% to 26% of users).
- Twenty percent of online adults between ages 50-64 use social networking sites daily, double the number from last year.
- Of those 65 and older, 13% use social networking sites daily as opposed to a mere 4% the prior year.
- One in 10 internet users over 50 now uses some form of status update themselves or use them to keep track of others.
The constant activity and interaction of social media can not only alleviate these feelings through engagement and interaction, but can also provide a vast array of new things to excite the mind.
In my next post, I will examine aspects of this topic in more detail, taking a close look at some of the particular social platforms out there. In the meantime, we would love to hear your own observations and anecdotes on the subject, so please leave them in the comments!
Source: “5 Tips for Staying Connected: Help Your Loved One Avoid Social Isolation,” Revolution Health, 09/25/07
Source: “Older Adults and Social Media,” Pew Internet, 08/27/10
Image by [F]oxymoron, used under its Creative Commons license.