Younger generations continue debating whether the internet helps to connect or alienate, while the older generations increasingly find digital life a great way to combat feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Even though George’s daughter and grandchildren live 100 miles away from his Coventry home, he still talks to them face-to-face twice every week. Ria, his live-in care helper from Gabriel’s Angels, helps him log on to Skype on a laptop to say hello to Emily and Ethan, who are 5 and 9 years old respectively. In doing that, he is able to catch up on how their days have gone, what is happening at school and in return, he tells them about his day.
Connecting Friends and Family
The ability to be with friends and loved ones instantly even though we might be geographically separated is a piece of everyday magic that many people currently take for granted thanks to the internet. However, for older people such as 74-year-old George, whose mobility problems limit most of his contact with the world beyond his house, it could mean the difference between disconnection and actual everyday continuity with his family.
For the elderly, especially those that are housebound, internet and social media use has been shown to have a positive impact on alleviating isolation, boredom, and loneliness. As such, it can be an equally powerful too besides live-in care to help people remain connected to the world and can even broaden their horizons at a time when they feel that they might be contracting.
The demographic is clearly in agreement: internet use among the 65+ age group is the quickest growing and a study conducted recently revealed that 71 per cent actually used the internet every day with 34 per cent regularly using social media. However, according to research done by charity Age UK, the sweet spot is still this early decade, with 61 per cent of people 75+ actually having never used the Internet before, whether due to a fear of ‘doing something wrong’, a feeling that ‘it just isn’t for me’ or perhaps never having been introduced to the basics to help them build their confidence as users.
Platforms for video messaging, such as Skype are popular ways to help bridge the geographic gap between relatives and loved ones or friend, both locally and abroad. However, they are just part of the internet toolkit at the fingertips of the older generation.
Reconnecting and Supporting
Research shows that the 65+ demographic uses social media very differently compared to the younger generation. Not for the older generation, the broadcasting ‘selfie’ culture – rather the elderly are more concerned with privacy and use it to connect with like-minded people for exchanging helpful information.
The ability to talk online with others, on Facebook groups or pages for instance, who might be experiencing similar challenges helps to reduce feelings of isolation and helps serve a role that may not be filled even by close family members. Doctors, along with other healthcare professionals, have also created Facebook pages around conditions – from diabetes to dementia – for people to join and receive support without the need to leave their homes.
It is just one aspect of the internet that provides a critical gateway to the outside worlds when access may be otherwise limited. Many elderly people are actually also using the internet as an important information portal as well as an educational tool.
Reclaiming a Social Life
Being able to keep up with the current affairs to being able to access services, goods, internet bank, home shop, read a digital travelogue, find a book review, being able to research things and access services online helps empower the elderly, putting them back firmly into their own choices and lives.
Blogging is actually an option for the ones that are able and willing since it provides a great way to exercise the mind, imagination or memory as older individuals share their experiences and thoughts with readers.
Benefits of Online Experience
It isn’t just the emotional aspects of older life that benefit from a digital boost. Research also shows that using the internet regularly may play a critical role in helping seniors exercise their minds.
A study entitled ‘Ages 2.0’ involving 120 seniors over a 2-year period in the UK and Italy found that elderly individuals that were trained to use email, Skype, and social media performed better cognitively and showed improved overall health. Physical and mental capacity was shown to have improved in contrast to the control group that experienced a steady decline in both.