Social Media Impact on Seniors
Seniors are doing their best to stay connected to those they love in this digital age - but this effort comes with risks.
Social media is a powerful tool for interacting with loved ones and peers, but without proper guidance, seniors could find themselves victims of online fraud or manipulation. A tech-savvy helper, such as a family member or professional caregiver, can provide necessary instruction and supervision to minimize threats and maximize benefits.
Seniors Staying Connected Online
Loneliness and isolation are among the most destructive forces present in the lives of the elderly and can contribute to various mental and physical conditions. Social media platforms can keep seniors engaged with family and friends, including loved ones who may have moved across the country or have drifted from contact over time. Social media also enables seniors to follow local and community developments and make their voices heard.
Studies show social media can reduce loneliness in older adults, especially those living alone, as well as help maintain cognitive function and reduce the rate of depression among people with chronic pain.
Social Media Dangers for Seniors
Social media does have its fair share of downsides. Seniors can be especially vulnerable when they’re trying to navigate a new and complicated digital world. However, family and friends who are familiar with current technology can help their senior loved ones learn to adapt.
As digital viruses, spam, and hoax e-mails increase, people of all ages need to understand and identify them. Seniors who are learning to use and enjoy social media should be leery of the following:
- Financial Scams
Seniors are at a high risk of falling for a message, e-mail or advertisement asking for money, particularly if it pretends to be from a family member or loved one. Easy access to anyone’s personal info on social media makes such frauds all the more convincing.
- Anxiety and Lowered Self-Esteem
Social media platforms, like Facebook, can cause seniors to have false illusions that other people are happier or more fulfilled than them. For seniors who may be alone and have low self-esteem, this phenomenon can further exacerbate depression and loneliness.
- Herd Mentality
Social media platforms are powered by algorithms that primarily display subjective content and messages from sources individuals may know and support. This is the “social media bubble,” and seniors may not realize they’re subject to it.
- Misinformation and Propaganda
With “fake news” a permanent addition to the American lexicon, seniors should be aware that certain headlines can be false or inaccurate. Major news networks and political figures can send information to support their respective causes and beliefs, but individuals need to determine between news that is helpful and objective versus biased and deceitful.
A Helping Hand
A great way to protect seniors from the social media risks is via a home care provider who can monitor online activity and risk factors. Some ways to safeguard seniors include:
- Enable Privacy Settings and Ad Blockers
Social media platforms track activity for advertising purposes, but these settings can be disabled on computers and other devices.
- Supervise and Approve Financial Transactions
If your senior loved ones need to make money transactions online, make sure approval processes are in place. This extra step could prevent them from becoming victims of financial scams.
- Provide Personal Interaction
Social media can be a wonderful tool to stay in contact with people, but it shouldn’t replace direct interaction with others. The presence of a home care provider, if no one else is available, can help diminish the social media need for interaction.
Many organizations for seniors offer programs that teach seniors how to use and navigate social media and the Internet safely and wisely. Visiting Angels provides a “Silver Surfers” program which teaches interested seniors how to call, text, Skype, use Facebook and send photos with a smartphone, and more. With knowledge and supervision, these digital tools can effectively combat senior loneliness and isolation.