Many seniors experience isolation and, as a result, depression. Their isolation is due to a number of factors, including physical limitations, fixed incomes, and long-distance family members. There are as many ways to help reduce this sense of isolation as there are causes of it, but one important way is to get seniors involved in technology and social media. This has the potential to connect them to their families and friends all over the globe and across generations, as well as to groups of fellow seniors who share their interests, such as movies, music, political activism, health issues, gaming, and much, much more.
We are currently seeing many examples of the benefits of technical interaction for seniors. In Japan, for example, video game arcades are turning into community gathering places where seniors can learn to skillfully play various kinds of games side by side with other seniors. It is a great way for seniors to fill time, to learn new skills, to meet other seniors, and to keep their minds active. As the industry recognized the untapped market and began to cater to it, more and more seniors began to show up to play video games and to form social groups around playing arcade games together. The seniors of Japan have caused a shift in focus for the entire gaming industry in their country, and there is a demand for more varied games each year.
In the U.S., niche bars and restaurants are springing up that combine the social world of gaming and the physical social spaces found in retro arcade complexes. In Atlanta, Georgia, for example, you can find the excellent Battle & Brew bar and restaurant, where a purchase of a few dollars earns you gameplay surrounded by other interested people on a comfortable, chic couch, munching on delicious food.
These spaces are not just for those below 30! Seniors stand to benefit significantly from early-in-the-day deals, and could use the time to connect with younger people and each other, as they do in Japan.
In addition to electronic gaming, there is social media. Social media is an electronic communication which creates online communities, big or small. Users often create profiles, which reveal details about the user—books they read, schools they attended, vacations they took—and allow people to connect. Here’s the science: Cotten et al. found that retired adults age 50 or older were impacted positively by Internet use, reducing the amount of depression they experienced by as much as 28%.
If all seniors felt a third less depressed, we would see incredible results in longevity and health, as happy people heal faster and live longer. It is clear, then, that we need to get our seniors plugged in to the electronic gaming, Internet, and social media phenomena that have engulfed the younger generations so completely.
Here are some easy ways to get a start for yourself or your loved one on social media:
- Consider making it a social event between older and younger generations. Children—especially very young children—are often quite good at navigating digital spaces nowadays, and can absolutely sharpen their communication skills while walking their older relatives through creating profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and even Vine and YouTube.
- Research social media platforms before you choose to sign up. Most seniors are not looking to switch jobs, so LinkedIn may not make sense for them, since it is business- and resume-based; if they do not have a smartphone with a camera installed, Instagram may also be quite pointless, as it is a platform for sharing photos only. Facebook is most typical and easy-to-use for most seniors, since nearly everyone has a computer, many people they know are undoubtedly already on Facebook, and Facebook is specifically formatted to connect users with as many people as possible. Other great platforms include Twitter, Tumblr, and SnapChat, depending on your senior’s wants and needs for connectivity.
- Invite technology into your social time. Navigating video games or visiting an arcade is an excellent way to spend a few quality hours!
- Allow seniors time to adjust. For many seniors social media, Internet use, and technology can be intimidating, confusing, or complicated. This is normal and not an issue or sign of their inability to learn new things! It takes adjustment that many in younger generations do not understand, since they grew up in times when technology constantly evolved and became vital to every moment of everyday life. Be patient!
Cotten, S. R., Ford, G., Ford, S., Hale, T.M. (March 2012). Internet use and depression among older adults. Computers in Human Behavior, 28(2): 496-499. Doi:10.1016/j.chb.2011.10.021.Abstract available at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S074756321100238X. Retrieved 1/12/2016.
Guest Contributor. (March 5, 2012).11 Reasons Why Seniors Should Care About Social Media. Seniornet.org. Available at http://seniornet.org/blog/11-reasons-why-seniors-should-care-about-social-media/. Retrieved 1/12/2016.
Kyodo. (December 29, 2015). Video game centers becoming hubs for Japan’s elderly. The Japan Times. Available online at http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/12/29/national/social-issues/video-game-centers-becoming-social-hubs-japans-elderly/. Retrieved 1/12/2015.