facebook-oldest-oldiesMy mother, 63, loves Facebook.  After her vacations, she calls me and asks me to help her post her pictures.  If I don’t update my status enough, she gets nervous.  She is currently driving my dad to Chicago for follow-up on his cancer treatment.  Even though the roads are bad, I know she’s ok because she just checked-in at Speedway.  Sometimes she posts slightly embarrassing messages on my wall; I try to humor her…

I went to a “social media bootcamp” for work last week.  According to a report commissioned by AARP, approximately one-quarter of all those 50+ use social media websites, with Facebook being by far the most popular.  So in my position working with vulnerable older adults, it’s becoming more and more important for me to be able to understand and use social media.

It makes sense for lower-income people to use social media.  In many cases, it is less expensive to use a smartphone rather than a landline and internet together.  Because internet access is becoming almost necessary for paying bills and conducting personal business, smartphones can reduce monthly household expenditures for vulnerable populations.  Since social media enhances and at times optimizes the capabilities of smartphones, being able to use social media can only benefit those with smartphones.

For vulnerable older people, I think there are some good reasons to promote the use of social media.  Here’s a few:

  • Discounts and special offers on products are often offered through social media sites.  Additionally, many publications make available free articles on social media that would otherwise require payment.  Social media can allow those with lower incomes to save money in their day-to-day purchases.
  • There are conflicting studies regarding the effectiveness of using social media to connect people to their communities and relieve loneliness.  However, there is certainly potential for social media to create positive connections in the lives of older adults.  If fact, AARP Foundation recently began piloting a program to help older people learn to better use technology and social media for the purpose of reducing isolation.
  • During an emergency or natural disaster, television and radio communications become less useful without power.  Tweets, Facebook posts, email or text messaging may help improve emergency outcomes by making information about shelter locations, evacuation orders, etc. more accessible. Also, some older people lack the capability to evacuate and social media may enable these people to alert rescue organizations of their need for assistance.