Social media, although frequently criticized, is a rapidly growing part of life. As such, it is the object of much fascination in the scientific world. Researchers are wondering whether or not Facebook and other forms of social media help or hurt the health of users. They join parents, users, politicians, and now caregivers of seniors in their concerns.
Yes, seniors are becoming an ever-growing pool of users and contributors to the social media newsfeed. In relation to this, a new study, which clearly identifies itself as preliminary, puts forth an interesting observation. Moderate Facebook usage, coupled with high offline social life, resulted in greater longevity.
The study was conducted at the University of California at Berkeley and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. It coupled Facebook users with non-users and compared their longevity. The official findings of the study indicated that "Mortality risk is lowest for those with high levels of offline social interaction and moderate levels of online social interaction." The researchers compared vital records and Facebook user data (retrieved through an association with Facebook, which agreed to cooperate). The results were unexpected. Facebook users with moderate online social interaction, as well as high offline social interaction, lived longest. "Friending" people, online and off, is a healthy practice.
There are plenty of opinions regarding the "proper" uses of social media. There are those who argue that it should not be used at all. However, social media is here to stay. The more people carry around smartphones and upload selfies for friends and family to see, the more its effects become entrenched. The study cited above begins a conversation within the scientific community, linking concern about social media's effects with scientific research. The result are intriguing.
As many caregivers know, seniors run the risk of becoming bored, isolated, and unhappy. Many seniors resist going into a facility to receive much-needed medical care for precisely this reason. They fear being outside of their communities, bereft, sad, and alone. Isolation can cause seniors to live shorter, more uncomfortable lives, as many studies suggest. This study shows that, with a computer or a smartphone, seniors and their loved ones can connect in ways that make life more interesting, fun, happy--and long.
Facebook profiles are free to make and maintain. Family members, especially social media savvy ones, can help seniors build profiles and add new "friends." Friends on Facebook can be family members, former coworkers, or even friends from high school or college! Seniors might be surprised at how many people from their pasts already have profiles and regularly interact on Facebook.
Once the senior has a good set of friends, he or she might want to explore the website. There are interest groups such as book clubs, knitting clubs, and explorer's organizations that travel to local parks or historic sites. There are political organizations too. Through exploring these interest groups, seniors can "meet" new people without leaving their homes. They can develop relationships that can translate into social activities offline.
One of the most important concerns when going online is security and privacy. Media savvy family members and caregivers should review Facebook's privacy and security settings and check in with their seniors about what they are and are not sharing online. It is best to discourage seniors from buying products from someone they do not know. Vibrant community resale pages can foster excellent relationships within communities online. However, unscrupulous people sometimes use social media to prey on the unsuspecting. Other social media networks, such as Instagram, Twitter, and SnapChat are also all free and easy to use.
One of the keys that studies find with relative frequency is that social media use alone does not sustain happiness. In fact, a lack of moderation can lead to lower levels of happiness. In light of that, seniors must expand their social lives. Beyond online, seniors also require face-to-face interpersonal social experiences as often as possible. Elderly loved ones should be encouraged to participate in religious or community organizations which offer senior-oriented or senior-friendly social experiences. Caregivers can also help them join local clubs or organizations of mixed age groups, since the youngest and oldest generations often benefit from socializing with each other. Most facilities encourage social interaction through community activities. Family caregivers should encourage an elderly loved one in a facility to participate., knowing that social interaction helps people live longer, happier, and fuller lives.
Bromwich, John Engel. (October 31, 2016). Facebook Could Be Associated With a Longer Life, Study Finds. The New York Times. Available at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/01/science/facebook-longer-life.html?action=click&contentCollection=Opinion&module=Trending&version=Full®ion=Marginalia&pgtype=article&_r=0. Retrieved November 11, 2016.
Hobbs, William R., Burke, Mora, Christakis, Nicholas A., and Fowler, James H. (2016). Online social integration is associated with reduced mortality risk. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 113(46):12980-12984. Available at http://www.pnas.org/content/113/46/12980. Retrieved November 11, 2016.
Kendrick, Douglas T. (April 11, 2014). 7 Ways Facebook Is Bad for Your Mental Health. Psychology Today. Available at https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sex-murder-and-the-meaning-life/201404/7-ways-facebook-is-bad-your-mental-health. Retrieved November 11, 2016.
Kross, Ethan, Verduyn, Phillippe, Demiralp, Emre, Park, Jiyoung, Lee, David Seungjae, Lin, Natalie, Shablack, Holly, Jonides, John, and Ybarra, Oscar. (2013). Facebook Use Predicts Declines in Subjective Well-Being in Young Adults. PLoS ONE, 8(8). Available at http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0069841. Retrieved November 11, 2016.
Welch, Ashley. (October 31, 2016). Study makes surprising discovery about Facebook users: they live longer. CBSNews.com. Available at http://www.cbsnews.com/news/facebook-users-live-longer-study-finds/. Retrieved November 11, 2016.