Sense of community, control may be a few clicks away for residents

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Lois A. Bowers
Lois A. Bowers

In the approximately 10 years I've used Facebook personally, one of the features I've come to appreciate the most is the way it lets me stay in touch with family members, former co-workers and high school and college friends who are spread around the country. We share news that may be insignificant in the big scheme of things — information that wouldn't necessarily warrant a phone call or an email — but doing so enables us to feel closer to one another and be part of a larger community that includes others.

The social network and others like it also may offer benefits to senior living residents, suggests research newly published in the journal New Media & Society.

S. Shyam Sundar, Ph.D., a professor at Penn State University, and Eun Hwa Jung, Ph.D., who worked with him as a graduate student and now is an assistant professor at National University of Singapore, recruited and studied 202 participants from 27 U.S. retirement centers who used Facebook for at least a year. The average age of participants was 69, with the oldest being 86.

Through observation and questionnaires, they found that older adults who posted a lot of personal stories on Facebook felt a higher sense of community. Also, the more they customized their user profiles, the more in control they felt. And commenting on and responding to posts gave them a feeling of social interaction.

“This is important, especially for older adults who might be aging in place, because they have mobility constraints that limit their ability to socialize,” Sundar said.

I've written about Sundar's research before. In a study published last year, he, Jung and colleagues discovered that although some senior living residents enjoyed viewing photos and updates from family and friends on Facebook, privacy concerns kept some residents off the site.

Given recent news, privacy is a legitimate concern for Facebook users of any age. Sundar suggests that developers of social media networks create features that enhance the identity of older adults while simultaneously protecting their privacy. Such an effort would benefit all of us.

In the aforementioned study published last year, Sundar and colleagues found that some adults avoided the site, even if they had an account, because of the triviality of some others' posts. So maybe we all don't like Facebook for identical reasons, but it's good to know that older adults who use the social network may be deriving from it the same sense of community that I do.

Lois A. Bowers is senior editor of McKnight's Senior Living. Follow her on Twitter at @Lois_Bowers. Email her at lois.bowers@mcknights.com.

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