The Benefits of Internet Literacy for Seniors

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Studies show that more and more seniors are getting online, starting facebook accounts, and sending out tweets.  In fact, the latest numbers, published by the Pew Research Center as part of their Internet and American Life Project, show that as of April 2012, about 53% of Americans, over the age of 65, use the internet.[1]  That is a significant number considering that in the year 2000 just 14% of seniors were logged onto the web. The increase in internet use among seniors is more than just an interesting trend; it is proving to have far reaching benefits when it comes to the mental and emotional health of seniors.

 Cognitive Benefits

Research conducted at UCLA found that even minimal internet use resulted in improved cognitive function among adults between the ages of 55-78.  Participants were asked to spend some time conducting simple internet searches on a daily basis.  The findings show that using the web increases activity in the areas of the brain associated with memory and decision-making.  Researchers concluded that online activity is an effective form of brain exercise that can improve the quality of life among seniors.[2]

How the Internet Can Combat Depression

Isolation is one of the key factors that contribute to a high rate of depression among seniors.  Social networking programs are proving to be an excellent tool for seniors when it comes to keeping in touch with family and connecting with friends.  According to a study by the Phoenix Center, which looked at the relationship between depression among seniors and internet use, older adults who utilize the internet for email and other social networking purposes reduce the rate of depression by 20%.[3]  That is good news, especially considering the ease and accessibility of the internet.

To Share or Not to Share?

While many seniors are embracing the internet and social media sites as a way to stay in touch with far flung family members, others are reluctant to take advantage of these tools because they are nervous about sharing too much information.  Most seniors are used to socializing in person or through direct emails, so the idea of posting on a “public wall” can leave them feeling vulnerable and exposed.  The key is to understand how privacy settings work and who will be able to view your posts.

facebookAbby Stokes, author of:   Is This Thing On? A Computer Handbook for Late Bloomers, Technophobes and the Kicking and Screaming,” suggests that seniors use the “front door” test to help them decide what to post:  “If you are not comfortable putting it on the front door of your home, do not put it on Facebook.  If you use the front door test you will never have to worry. That’s the linchpin.”[4]  Following this simple advice can help seniors feel more comfortable about navigating the world of social media.

Increasing Access

One of the long term goals of The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 is to provide increased access to high-speed broadband internet across the United States.  A significant porti
on of the funding for this program is going towards providing seniors with the access and other tools they need to take advantage of the internet.  These tools include free classes that are often available at your local public library or community college.  If you are interested in becoming more computer savvy and learning how to utilize social media, look for programs in your area that can help.[5]

 



[1] Zickuhr, Kathryn and Mary Madden.  “Older Adults and Internet Use.”  Pew Internet & American Lift Project, 6 June 2012.  Web.  3 April 2013.

[2] Lauer, George.  “Seniors Who Use Internet Could Reap Health Benefits, Studies Show.”  iHealth Beat, 1 December 2009.  Web.  3 April 2013.

[3] Ford, George S. and Sherry G Ford.  “Internet Use and Depression Among the Elderly.”  Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal and Economic Public Policy Studies, October 2009.  Web.  3 April 2013.

[4] Weigel, Jen.  “Facebook for Grandparents.” Chicago Tribune, 9 October 2012.  Web.  3 April 2013.

[5] “The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.”  Web.  4 April 2013

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