Social media is booming in all markets, so when I hear talk about social media use by seniors, I would ask what a "senior" is.
It used to be that people aged 65 and older were automatically classified as seniors, because that was the age at which most people retired. Today, not all people over age 65 want to be called seniors — heck, most of us cringe when we receive the AARP card at 50! I did, at least.
According to a Pew Research Center article, "Older Adults and Social Media," social networking use among people age 50 and older nearly doubled in the last year — it was up 42 percent in 2010.
Recently, someone said to me that persons in their 50s (seniors) are not very tech-savvy. I was floored, first because I fell into that age category, and also because I do not think of myself as a senior.
So what age are we speaking about? What is a senior? As a member of the Baby Boomer set, I can state that many of us are very much into the Internet and are fairly savvy and comfortable with social media. In fact, anyone over the age of 50 still working today has had to make the leap into the social networking sphere.
I think that the aging baby boomer is likely to be more comfortable using technology to communicate than previous generations, i.e. their parents. After all, many of us have become familiar with e-communication tools (like emails and listservs) and other tech gadgets (Palm Pilots, Blackberries, etc.) in the workplace.
Yes, I agree that persons over 65 are very hesitant to begin using the computer and those that do usually restrict their usage to finance and news and occasional Facebook visits to view their grandchildren.
However, the push for social networking education for older Americans appears to be happening. Backed by such industry heavyweights as Comcast, Facebook and Microsoft, Project GOAL, a new Washington, D.C.-based organization, officially launched on May 10, with the goal of getting more senior citizens on the Web. This was happening just as that someone was telling me anyone over the age of 50 is not tech-savvy.
As far as people over the age of 75, this may be a bit more dangerous leap and I would wager they are more resistant to computers. They are also targeted by scammers looking to take advantage of their little computer knowledge or possible dwindling cognitive skill.
I believe, though, that if older adults learn how to navigate social media and how to use it as a tool to connect with others, it can alleviate feelings of loneliness & isolation. It may also prove to be good for the intellectual well being of seniors as well.
Social media skills may be difficult for a senior to grasp at first, but gaining some moderate computer knowledge will improve most anyone’s ability. The most serious issue is stolen personal information, hence the need for training, so that seniors wanting to be on the web socializing may do so while minimizing any personal and financial risks. As an advocate who works for and with seniors, I see many of them engaged in learning — with the ability, desire and energy to focus on new technology.
Obviously, a senior with health impairments such as dementia or Alzheimer's Disease could become confused. On the other hand, there are many older Americans with amazingly interesting Facebook pages with links to arts, music and news items, and still many others using the web to communicate with family, so stereotyping all seniors as "not tech-savvy" is plain foolish. Twitter and iPhone usage would be up also if the right people were willing to "home-school" the elderly on social media. While there should be caution over privacy and security (especially as more senior users come into the market), proper media education will help minimize any risks.
There are tremendous possibilities for seniors to learn and benefit from the Internet. In the long run, making a senior or anyone who is home bound feel less isolated is a good thing. I hope that seniors continue to embrace social media and that this group of new learners keeps on growing.
Check first with your local Council on Aging for classes in this regard.
If you know of any Internet education classes designed for seniors, please let us know in the comments section. These classes can help introduce seniors to the benefits of using social media to connect with family and friends.