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Elderly people
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Four reasons why older adults should use the Internet

My mum discovered WhatsApp only last year. Now, she uses it more than I do. She’s already into Instagram, Pinterest and most social media platforms. She approaches the Internet in the same spirit as a toddler would play with his/her new toy. She finds it liberating and an incredibly useful to network.

And, she’s over 60 years.

She represents a very small population on the Internet. The narratives on social media are largely dictated by adults and the youth. Most of the trending topics we see on social media are for and by people of age groups between 18-40. But, contrary to popular belief, older adults enjoy emailing, instant messaging, Facebook and other forms of social technology.

There are plenty of studies that have suggested that older adults can find the social networking experience very beneficial for their health. Here are the some of the scientifically-backed benefits:

Fewer depressive symptoms

Elderly Woman
Photo: Borya/Flickr

A study, published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, by a Michigan State University researcher found that social technology use among older adults was linked to better self-rated health and fewer chronic illnesses and depressive symptoms.

“Older adults think the benefits of social technology greatly outweigh the costs and challenges of technology,” said Chopik, assistant professor of psychology. “And the use of this technology could benefit their mental and physical health over time.” The average age of older adults who participated in the experiment was 68 years.

Lower levels of loneliness

Loneliness
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The use of social technology can also lower levels of loneliness, which in turn can lead to better mental and physical health. There is evidence to suggest that older adults who use social technology are more satisfied with life and have fewer depressive symptoms and chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

This research found that Internet use among the elderly can reduce the chances of depression by more than 30 percent.

“That’s a very strong effect,” said Shelia Cotten, a Michigan State University professor of telecommunication, information studies and media who led the project. “And it all has to do with older persons being able to communicate, to stay in contact with their social networks, and just not feel lonely.”

Cotten and her colleagues analyzed the data collected by the Health and Retirement Survey, a survey collecting information from more than 22,000 older Americans every two years. This particular sample included more than 3,000 respondents.

Healthcare support

Telemedicine
Photo: Intel Free Press/Flickr

Internet can also help older adults connect to their healthcare providers. Older adults suffering from chronic illness and who need constant medical attention can avail such services at a click of a button. Video calling offers great potential for older adults who cannot afford to move around easily.

Also, with the help of Internet, older adults and doctors can exchange medicine and diet routines almost instantaneously.

Getting information

Google
Photo: Anthony Ryan/Flickr

Information is power. We are increasingly turning to Google for our health-related queries. It gives us a sense of control over our lives. It can help us understand our problems better and interact with people who have had similar experiences.

But it can get a little complicated. Frequent online searchers pertaining to healthcare can also have a negative influence or interfere with the established medical routine. It can lead to cyberchondria.  

Cyberchondria is defined by White and Horvitz as “the unfounded escalation of concerns about common symptomatology, based on the review of search results and literature on the web”.

However, the positives outweigh the negatives. The ability to connect with others, share experiences, search for information, find nutrient value of foods are some of the positives.

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