Social media use has physical, mental health benefits for seniors

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Photo: Michigan State University
Photo: Michigan State University

Use of email, instant messaging and social media can result in less loneliness and fewer chronic illnesses and symptoms of depression for older adults, according to new research published online by the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.

And, Michigan State University researcher William Chopik, Ph.D., and his coauthors found, seniors like networking in such ways. More than 95% of participants in their study (average age: 68) said they were either “somewhat” or “very” satisfied with such technology, and 72% said they were not opposed to learning new technologies.

“Despite the attention that the digital divide has garnered in recent years, a large proportion of older adults use technology to maintain their social networks and make their lives easier,” said Chopik, an assistant professor of psychology. “In fact, there may be portions of the older population that use technology as often as younger adults.”

The study used data from 591 participants in the nationally representative Health and Retirement Study. Social technology included email, social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, online video or phone call technology such as Skype, online chatting or instant messaging, and smartphones.

The study found that the older adults who used social technology, on average, were less lonely and had better mental and physical health. They also generally were more satisfied with life and had fewer symptoms of depression and chronic conditions such as hypertension and diabetes.

“Close relationships with other people are a large determinant of physical health and well-being, and social technology has the potential to cultivate successful relationships among older adults,” Chopik said.

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