If your grandparents are struggling with isolation, showing them how to use Facebook may help as researchers, including one of Indian-origin, have found that social networking sites offer tools and activities that may help elderly feel more empowered and less lonely.
Facebook and similar social networking sites could play a critical role in easing isolation and making them feel like they are part of a large community, said the study published in the journal New Media and Society.
“This is important, especially for older adults who might be aging in place, because they have mobility constraints that limit their ability to socialize,” said study co-author S. Shyam Sundar, Professor at the Pennsylvania State University in the US.
For the study, the researchers recruited more than 200 participants who were 60 years and older and used Facebook for at least a year.
The researchers “friended” the participants on Facebook so they could count the number of times they used the various tools in the site during the past year.
The participants were also asked to respond to a questionnaire that captured the gratifications they obtained from Facebook.
Elderly who posted a lot of personal stories on Facebook felt a higher sense of community, and the more they customised their profiles, the more in control they felt, Sundar said.
The researchers also suggested that commenting on and responding to them gave older users a feeling of social interaction. Sundar added that using social media is not a uniform experience that is either all bad, or all good, but offers multiple functions for diverse users.
Older adults are increasingly adopting social media, in general, and are a growing number of Facebook’s total membership, said Eun Hwa Jung from National University of Singapore who worked with Sundar.
Facebook is considered the most popular social network among elderly, the researchers added. The researcher also emphasised that developers of social media networks should consider the needs of this growing group of users. For example, they should create features that enhance the identity of elderly while simultaneously protecting their privacy.