Older adults increasingly use social media as a platform to find news and information, share their experiences and connect with friends and family. New studies show social media use can also be good for their health. But with the benefits, can come some risk.
Today, 34% of Americans ages 65 and up say they use social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter; a 20% increase from 2013. The rates are even higher among ‘younger’ seniors. More than four-in-ten (45%) American’s age 65-75 say they use social networking sites, according to Gallup polls.
Social media has become an important portal for reducing isolation, loneliness and other depressive symptoms among older adults and can be beneficial to overall health of older adults.
Training older people to use social media can improve cognitive capacity, increase a sense of self-competence and could have a beneficial overall impact on mental health and physical well-being, according to a study carried out in the UK and Italy.
During the two-year study, 120 older people were given computers, broadband Internet connections and training in using e-mail, Skype, Facebook and other social media tools. A control group simply received their usual care.
Researchers found most study participants who were given computers and social media training reported feeling less isolated because of the connections made with relatives, friends and people with shared interests. Those participants also performed better in tests to gauge cognitive capacity than the control group. Participants using social media also self-reported that they were mentally and physically healthier while, in general, those in the control group reported steady decline.
One study participant, Margaret, a 70-year-old mother of six and grandmother of 23, said she was amazed by the transformation she noticed in herself since she began to use social media during the study. “It’s brought fun into my life again. It’s changed my life,” she said. “Everyone will tell you, I’m a different person… My life feels bigger now. I was slipping away into a slower pace of life. [Now] I feel invigorated.”
The benefits of connectedness are clear. However, there is some personal security risk with social media use, warns AARP and the Better Business Bureau.
According to a warning released by AARP’s Fraud Watch Network, one fast-growing scam on Facebook Messenger uses your Facebook friends list to hack your account, infect your devices and capture personal information.
Here’s how it works: You get a Facebook Messenger chat that appears to be from someone you know. In the most common campaign, the message will include your name, the word “video” followed by a link. Other versions promise an inside investment opportunity or promote some other easy-money scheme.
“In some cases, scammers have hacked into your friend’s Facebook account. In other versions, the scammer creates a separate look-alike account by stealing your friend’s photos,” reports the Better Business Bureau. “Either way, scammers are banking that you will trust a message that appears to come from someone you know.”
Once you click the link, malware may be installed on your device that may record what you type including passwords, credit card numbers and other sensitive information. Scammers use this information to open credit cards in your name, gain access to your financial accounts and other conduct other fraudulent activity.
The key to reaping the health benefits of social media use while avoiding the security risks is to be informed. Two services from Area Agency on Aging and AARP can help.
Training on how to use social media is available through the Area Agency on Aging’s Computer Learning Center. There, seniors learn from other seniors how to use Facebook and other social media tools. Other classes range from computer basics to advanced skills. Classes are relaxed and curriculum specially designed for senior learners. Visit www.areaagencyonaging.org to find upcoming classes or call (269) 408-4304.
To help people of all ages stay up to date on social media scams and other fraud, AARP provides fraud alerts and information through their Fraud Watch Network. The service is free and AARP membership is not required. Sign up for the alerts and you'll learn how to shop and bank online safely, create strong passwords, protect yourself from identity theft and scams, use social media risk-free, and more. To find out more, visit www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/fraud-watch-network.