Using social media can improve the mental health and well being of older people, a study has found.
Seniors who spend time online have improved cognitive capacity, are less socially isolated and have a stronger sense of personal identity according to the research led by the University of Exeter.
The project, called Ages 2.0, aimed to assess the extent to which the internet and social media could promote active ageing and address social isolation – often a feature of older age.
It showed that those older people who received training became more positive about computers over time, with the participants particularly enjoying connecting with friends and relatives via Skype and email.
Dr Thomas Morton at the University of Exeter, who led the project in the UK said: “Human beings are social animals, and it’s no surprise that we tend to do better when we have the capacity to connect with others. But what can be surprising is just how important social connections are to cognitive and physical health.
"People who are socially isolated or who experience loneliness are more vulnerable to disease and decline. For these reasons finding ways to support people’s social connections is a really important goal.
"This study shows how technology can be a useful tool for enabling social connections, and that supporting older people in our community to use technology effectively can have important benefits for their health and well-being.”
The 75 volunteers in the study were all vulnerable older adults between the ages of 60 and 95 years of age who were receiving care in the community or living in residential care homes.
Half of the participants were randomly assigned to receive training and the other half to a control group who received care as usual. The training involved the installation of an ‘Easy PC package’ consisting of a touch screen computer and keyboard, and a broadband internet connection. They were able to keep the computer for 12 months, including a three-month training period.
One of the study’s participants, Margaret Keohone, said: “Having this training changes people’s lives and opens up their worlds, invigorates their minds and for lots of us gives us a completely different way of recognising our worth as we age. I was just slipping away into a slower way of life.”