Social media has been called a lot of things in recent years. Counter-productive, all-consuming, and deluding are just a few terms used to describe its effect on people of all ages. That said, there are – of course – many positive aspects of social media. It’s a great way to keep in touch with the people you care about.
One often-overlooked but valuable benefit of social media is its ability to keep seniors from feeling isolated and out of touch with the world around them. Older adults, especially those with mobility issues and health problems, often suffer from depression and anxiety. And yet, even connecting with loved ones through Facebook and Instagram can only do so much to alleviate loneliness.
Psychologist Mark Winwood, who’s made a study of social media, warns that it can become a “false reality,” providing a narrow, one-dimensional view of someone else’s life. “As such, when seeing others through social media it’s natural to make assumptions about how their life might be and you might believe that they, and others, are all having a great time while you’re missing out,” Winwood said. That invites unhealthy comparisons that can lead to envy and jealousy.
Taking a break
Taking a social media break is both healthy and necessary for seniors. There are many ways older adults can fill their time without becoming overly dependent on social media. Spiritual health and wellness provide a sense of direction and purpose that social media sites cannot. A University of Chicago study found that belief in God increases as people grow older, a belief that bestows many health benefits on older adults.
Spirituality is a road to a better quality of life for seniors who struggle with dementia, while actively engaging in religious practice can slow cognitive decline and help mitigate the effects of mental disorders. Regular prayer and meditation reduce feelings of depression as does engaging in a faith community, such as a church congregation, providing an important sense of social belonging, direction and purpose.
If you belong to a church community, there are probably a number of volunteer opportunities available to you. Churches often deliver meals to mobility-challenged members of the community, and spend time with shut-ins who suffer from isolation. You can take time to reach out to fellow congregants and others in your community by phone, just to spend a few minutes talking and sharing some human-to-human contact. A recent study published by Wharton College revealed that people who volunteer their time feel more useful and self-confident. Volunteering imparts a feeling of accomplishment that encourages seniors to seek more such interaction.
If you’re a retiree who always struggled to find time for reading during your working days, now’s your big chance. Fill your time by getting to all those great books you lined up years ago. If your eyesight makes it difficult to read books, look for large-print editions or read books online. Check with your doctor about treatment options, or talk to an optometrist about getting a good pair of reading glasses. Reading provides tremendous benefits, improves cognitive processes, memory, and brain health in general.
Gardening is a fulfilling activity that offers multiple physical and mental health benefits. It’s also an environmentally friendly hobby that will pay you back with fresh vegetables and a beautiful yard and garden. If you have mobility restrictions, you can also do some indoor gardening with potting soil, pots, fertilizer and grow lights.
Social media is a powerful ally for seniors in the battle against depression and personal isolation. It’s a timely way to make sure that elderly friends are feeling well. But it’s just one way to keep occupied. There are many healthy alternatives that can help you maintain an active, well-rounded life.