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December 23, 2014

Seniors On Skype

Social networks can ease seniors' loneliness and increase self-confidence. Get Mom and Dad a broadband connection.

Facebook, Skype and other forms of social networking are not just for millennials — they also offer their parents and grandparents a wider social world.

A two-year project called Ages 2.0 found that introducing older people to social media provided many benefits, including helping seniors feel more connected to the world around them and less lonely.

The project looked at 78 people in the United Kingdom between the ages of 60 and 95. Some were living in their own homes, while others were in an assisted-living facility. All were receiving some form of social assistance and were judged to be highly vulnerable to isolation and loneliness.

In addition to their usual care, half of the participants were given a touch screen computer system and a broadband connection to keep for 12 months. They were also trained in the technology, taught how to send email and use Skype and Facebook. The other half of the seniors received their usual care. A similar project took place in Italy.

Adult children hoping to keep their aging parents more engaged may want to consider buying them a computer or offering to help pay for a high-speed internet connection.

Since many of the people were totally new to computers, there was an initial period of adjustment. Most grew more comfortable with the technology and particularly enjoyed connecting with friends and relatives via Skype and email.

By the end of the project, those given computers felt more competent, engaged more in social activity, had a stronger sense of personal identity and showed improved cognitive capacity, all of which led to better overall mental health and well-being.

One of the seniors, a camping enthusiast who can no longer make camping trips, was able to join in via Skype with a group of campers all snugly gathered around the campfire. And while he couldn't toast marshmallows, he could still appreciate the same sights and sounds that his fellow campers were enjoying.

Dr. Thomas Morton of 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.”

“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,” he added.

Adult children hoping to keep their aging parents more active and engaged may want to consider buying them a tablet computer or offering to help pay for a high-speed internet connection.

For more information, see the Ages 2.0 website.

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