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Social media not just for young folks

Editor’s Note

Thanks to breakthroughs in medicine and nutrition in recent years, we are living longer than ever before. But this increase in life expectancy also brings an increase in the number of diseases, injuries and impairments that affect older adults. With this in mind, we at the local Visiting Angels office in Salem have created this series of articles to keep our older population and their families informed and to offer some practical advice for meeting the challenges faced by seniors and those who care for them.

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As the COVID-19 pandemic changes the way we interact with one another, many older Americans are turning to social media to stay in contact with family and friends. But even before quarantines and stay-at-home orders forced us to find new ways to communicate, seniors were among the fastest growing demographic for social media users.

A study by the Pew Research Center showed that 34 percent of those adults 65 and older use social media platforms. Analysis of a Pew Research survey reported in 2019 suggested that 68 percent of those between the ages of 55 to 73 owned a smartphone, as did 40 percent of those between the ages of 74 to 91. Fifty-two percent of those in the 55-73 age group and 33 percent in the 74-91 age group reported owning a tablet computer.

Through social media outlets such as Facebook, older adults are able to alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation – which can lead to health problems, both mentally and physically – by staying in contact with family members who live far away or by reconnecting with old friends after years of drifting apart. This is especially true for seniors whose physical limitations may make it difficult for them to leave the home.

Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter also allow seniors to keep up with news and community events, while others like YouTube offer opportunities for entertainment and learning through videos. Other platforms provide entertainment through games and learning opportunities through articles.

But while social media can help older adults stay connected and keep their minds active, it does not come without its risks. Seniors can be particularly vulnerable to these threats, especially those who have little understanding of or experience with the dangers present in the digital community.

One of the biggest threats seniors face when stepping into the realm of social media comes in the form of financial scams. The trusting nature of many older adults makes them an easy target for scammers and thieves, who prey on their willingness to help others. Some scammers impersonate loved ones asking for money to get them out of a bad situation such as jail, while other claim to be from a utility company or the IRS and threaten reprisals if they don’t get what they claim they are owed.

Similarly, because many seniors are so willing to trust other people, they sometimes have difficulty discerning between factual headlines or news articles and those which are misleading or altogether fake. While social media platforms can be a great way for older adults to keep up on the news or do more in-depth research into subjects that interest them, not all the information found on these platforms is true.

Often other users will post opinions or speculation as fact without verifying the actual truth behind these claims. In other situations, stories which appear to be coming from credible news sources may be planted to sway opinion and may knowingly contain distorted or erroneous facts that some older adults may have trouble recognizing.

Experts warn that sometimes depression or feelings of loneliness in older adults are made worse by social media use. These people may see pictures or read comments posted by friends and think that these people are happier or living more fulfilled lives than they are. Posts by family members may sometimes lead to greater sadness in seniors because they don’t see those family members in person regularly.

Education can often be one of the best defenses against the dangers associated with social media platforms. Many libraries and organizations offer classes which teach seniors the finer points of safely using social media. They can lean how to use privacy protections and ad blockers to limit the ways their activity is tracked while on those platforms. They can also lean how to block other users who may be posting inappropriate of undesirable content.

In some cases it may also help to have the assistance of a trusted friend or loved one who can be there to assist and supervise should questions or suspicions arise while using social media, especially when financial transactions are involved. Having the proper approval procedures in place prior to transferring money electronically can also provide an extra layer of protection against would be thieves.

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Information provided by Visiting Angels, America’s choice in homecare. Visiting Angels non-medical homecare services allow people to continue enjoying the independence of their daily routines in familiar surroundings. To set up an appointment for a no-obligation in-home consultation, call 330-332-1203.

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