Social media is no longer just child's play

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The Internet and related technologies have been a game-changer for people of all ages. The instant connectivity made possible by these advancements has been valued by young adults and children for years. But now social media is attracting an entirely different demographic – seniors.

More than just a method of channeling information to the comfort of home, the Internet and the various social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram, are ways for older adults to stay connected with friends and family. For seniors faced with mobility issues, social media helps to bring the world to them.

Despite the stereotype that seniors do not want to learn to use new technology, many seniors are getting on board. Findings from the Pew Research Institute show that social networking use among Internet users ages 50 to 64 grew by 88 percent between April 2009 and May 2010. The research also found that the percentage of those 65 and older using social media grew from 13 percent to 26 percent during that same stretch. Although young adults continue to be the primary users of social media, older users are gaining momentum and surpassing youth in the number of new users.

Individuals who are not yet utilizing social media to manage their communication efforts may be inspired by these benefits to doing so.

• Photo and video sharing: The majority of photos being taken today are digital, as fewer people are making prints of their photos. Rather, they are being shared via e-mail or through social media sites. Grandparents can see their grandchildren in photos in real time. Also, if they’ve managed apps that enable video sharing, they can view and chat with relatives who live miles away, just as if they were sitting across the table.

• Conversations with family: In a world where families are no longer centrally located, communication may be lacking. Despite the prevalence of mobile phones, fewer and fewer people seem to pick up the phone and make calls as they once did. Instead, they’re texting and updating social media posts. They’re also e-mailing one another. Older adults who have no access to this technology could be left out of the mix. This is a way for seniors to stay close to family.

• Convenient check-ins: At times when a full-blown conversation may not be practical, having a quick method to check in with a loved one can make social media advantageous. Men and women can send a quick text to their parents to find out how they’re feeling or if they need anything. Such ready access can provide some peace of mind to adults concerned about their elderly parents.

• Online shopping: Seniors who don’t get out much or who cannot safely drive a vehicle might not be able to shop as often as they would like. Having Internet access and experience with browsing Web sites enables older men and women to shop from reputable Web sites who ship items directly to the house. With the vast array of items now sold online, anyone can have their choice of items and not be forced to settle because of their age.

• Improved feelings of well-being: Avoiding feelings of isolation and loneliness can benefit older men and women. A study by Dr. Shelia Cotten, a sociologist and associate professor from the University of Alabama, Birmingham, revealed that Internet use was associated with a 30 percent decrease in depressive symptoms among older adults who used it regularly, while other studies have shown similarly impressive results.

• Working the mind: Going online, chatting on social media or simply writing an e-mail works areas of the brain. Typing also helps improve manual dexterity. These factors can be beneficial for seniors looking to stay sharp.

Using the Internet as a form of communication is a growing trend among the 50-plus demographic. It enables them to stay connected with family and the world in a variety of ways.

Social media can help elders navigate the world, shop, keep in touch with family and friends.