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Social Media and the Elderly

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Social Media and the Elderly

Is The Use of Social Media Making The Elderly Better-Connected? Websites such as Facebook and Google+ are commonly referred to as social media. Social media are websites and internet-based applications which allow users to exchange content and messages with each other. Over the course of the past decade, social media has become more and more important. At the same time, in all developed countries and in many developing countries, the population has begun to age as both birth and death rates fall. There is much research which indicates that social media makes it easier to interact with other people, to find people with similar interests, and to keep in touch with those whom one already knows. However, there is nearly just as much research which indicates the opposite – that social media serves to disconnect one from one's friends, that it creates social isolation, and that it causes superficial interactions. Adding to the difficulties in reaching a clear conclusion about this matter is the fact that many, if not most of the studies about the effects of social media on friendships and social interactions have been done on the young. Even for studies about the young, it is not entirely certain if a broader social network encourages adoption of social media, or if adoption of social media encourages a broader social network. Judging from what is known about other differences between older people and young people, it is quite likely that the ways in which they use social media will also significantly differ. Among other things, it is known that older people are usually later adopters of technology than are young people. Other things are known about social media usage regardless of age. In particular, social media has a very different effect on one's local social networks than it does on those at a regional or national level.
Social Media A number of different researchers have found contradictory results about the effects of social media usage on older people. For instance, some studies have found that using Facebook increases weak social ties at the expense of stronger ties, while other studies have found that that does not occur. The studies which found no effect also found a relationship between the quality of in-person friendships and the use of instant messaging on social networking sites. Additionally, other differences were seen among users of social media. For instance, for those adopters of social networking who had high social circles, their number of friends increased faster than did the number of friends of those who had smaller social circles. Users of social networking sites were also less likely to ask their neighbors for help
Social Networking and Mental Health In Older Adults Up to this point, there have not been very many studies of how use of social networking effects the mental and emotional health of older adults. A number of studies have found that large circles of friends is strongly associated with increased cognitive performance in older adults, while depression is strongly connected to feelings of isolation and loneliness. Because of this, there is a good possibility that using social networking can stave off depression because it can give people a greater number of social contacts. There is also some evidence that the use of social networking can help older adults to improve their cognitive performance and overall quality of life. This is because social networking increases social capital. Other studies have confirmed this and found that social networking in itself does not have any positive or negative effect on older adults. Rather, the way in which social networking is used plays a strong role in determining what effect it will have on an older person's quality of life – some people use social networking as a way to compensate for otherwise-inadequate networks of friends, while other people use it to actively keep in touch with people they know.
Making Social Networking Accessible One of the areas which the above studies have neglected is accessibility. Older people often suffer from poorer vision and other problems. Many, if not most, social media websites are designed for young and middle-aged adults. These designs are often not conducive to older people gaining as much as possible from their use of these sites. Chao, Lai, and Liu conducted a study of how social networking can be made more accessible to older people. They found that many of these sites had been designed without older people in mind and thus did not incorporate several design principles that they found to be important. These principles included using contrasting colors, making sure that interfaces were relatively simple and intuitive, and excluding extraneous information whenever possible. They found, that if these design principles were followed, then it is likely that the satisfaction which elderly people gain from using these sites would increase significantly.
Conclusion
Currently, there is no consensus on how social media affects the elderly. However, there is a lot of data that suggests two possible conclusions. The first possible conclusion is that using social media either has no effect on older adults or a very mild negative effect. The second conclusion is that using social media has a significant and positive effect on older adults. Regardless of which one of these proves to be the case, there is clear evidence that designing social media interfaces with older adults in mind can significantly enhance their enjoyment of social media website

References
Chou, W., Lai, Y., & Liu, K. (2013). User requirements of social media for the elderly: A case study in Taiwan. Behaviour & Information Technology, 32(9), 920-937.
Dogruel, L., Joeckel, S., & Bowman, N. (2013). Elderly people and morality in virtual worlds: A cross-cultural analysis of elderly people’s morality in interactive media. New Media & Society, 15(2), 276-293.
González, A., Ramírez, M., & Viadel, V. (2012). Attitudes of the Elderly Toward Information and Communications Technologies. Educational Gerontology, 38(9), 585-594.
Grandma May Be Sharper Thanks to Facebook. (2013, October 1). USA Today, 15-15.
Hage, E., Van Offenbeek, M., Boonstra, A. (2014). Proceedings from Twenty Second European Conference on Information Sy stems: Does Social Media Enhance Social Connectivity of an Aging Population?: Why Research Is Inconclusive and What To Do About It. Tel Avis, Israel.
Nef, T., Ganea, R., Müri, R., & Mosimann, U. (2013). Social networking sites and older users – a systematic review. International Psychogeriatrics, 1041-1053.
Niela-Vilén, H., Axelin, A., Salantera, S., & Melender, H. (2015). Internet-based peer support for parents: A systematic integrative review. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 51(11), 1524-1537.
Pew Research Center. (2012). The Demographics of Social Media Users - 2012. Washington, DC: Duggan, M. and Brenner, J.
Vlaming, R., Haveman-Nies, A., Heinrich, J., Veer, P., & Groot, L. (2013). Effect evaluation of a two-year complex intervention to reduce loneliness in non-institutionalised elderly Dutch people. BMC Public Health, 13(1), 984-984.

Research Log
I first became interested in this topic when my grandmother was diagnosed with depression. We had not noticed any behavior that would indicate that she was depressed, so it took us as a surprise. It eventually came out that she had not kept in touch with many of her friends, and this had caused or contributed to it. Upon learning this, I began investigating the role of social interaction in the lives of older people, which led me to learn about the role of social media in the lives of older people. At first, I thought that it would have negative effects but as time went on, I became increasingly convinced that it could have positive effects, or at least not be harmful, if it was used to keep up with people that one knew from real life, which is my current position.
Chou, W., Lai, Y., & Liu, K. (2013). User requirements of social media for the elderly: A case study in Taiwan. Behaviour & Information Technology, 32(9), 920-937.
Dogruel, L., Joeckel, S., & Bowman, N. (2013). Elderly people and morality in virtual worlds: A cross-cultural analysis of elderly people’s morality in interactive media. New Media & Society, 15(2), 276-293.
González, A., Ramírez, M., & Viadel, V. (2012). Attitudes of the Elderly Toward Information and Communications Technologies. Educational Gerontology, 38(9), 585-594.
Grandma May Be Sharper Thanks to Facebook. (2013, October 1). USA Today, 15-15.
Hage, E., Van Offenbeek, M., Boonstra, A. (2014). Proceedings from Twenty Second European Conference on Information Sy stems: Does Social Media Enhance Social Connectivity of an Aging Population?: Why Research Is Inconclusive and What To Do About It. Tel Avis, Israel.
Nef, T., Ganea, R., Müri, R., & Mosimann, U. (2013). Social networking sites and older users – a systematic review. International Psychogeriatrics, 1041-1053.
Niela-Vilén, H., Axelin, A., Salantera, S., & Melender, H. (2015). Internet-based peer support for parents: A systematic integrative review. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 51(11), 1524-1537.
Pew Research Center. (2012). The Demographics of Social Media Users - 2012. Washington, DC: Duggan, M. and Brenner, J.
Vlaming, R., Haveman-Nies, A., Heinrich, J., Veer, P., & Groot, L. (2013). Effect evaluation of a two-year complex intervention to reduce loneliness in non-institutionalised elderly Dutch people. BMC Public Health, 13(1), 984-984.

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