Investigación · 04 October 2018

Digital gaps: Grandparents also know what Facebook is

Por cenie
Brechas digitales: Los abuelos también saben lo que es Facebook - Investigación, Sociedad

As we get older, our ability to learn and retain new information decreases. So much so, that when we reach 80 and 90 years, a skill that a young child easily grasps, such as touching and operating a mobile phone, may seem too daunting to carry it out. Frustrated and defeated, many older adults simply give up trying to learn new skills.

However, contrary to popular belief, older adults enjoy email, instant messaging, Facebook and other forms of social technology. Not only that, but these online networks seem to reduce the loneliness of the elderly and even improve their health.

A new study by Michigan State University researcher William Chopik finds that the use of social technology among older adults is related to better self-assessment of health and fewer chronic diseases and depressive symptoms. The findings were published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.

"Older adults think that the benefits of social technology far outweigh the costs and challenges of technology," said Chopik. "And the use of this technology could benefit your mental and physical health over time."

Using data from 591 participants, Chopik examined the benefits of using technology for social connection among older adults (the average age of the participants was approximately 68). Social technology includes email, social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, online videos or phone calls, such as Skype, online chat or instant messaging, and smartphones.

Previous research on the use of technology throughout life has focused on the digital divide or disparities between younger and older adults painting a grim picture of the ability and motivation of older people to adapt to a larger picture changing technology

But Chopik's findings challenge this interpretation. More than 95 percent of participants said they were "somewhat" or "very" satisfied with the technology, while 72 percent said they were not opposed to learning new technologies.

"Despite the attention that the digital division has garnered in recent years, a large proportion of older adults use technology to maintain their social networks and make their lives easier", said Chopik. "In fact, there may be older parts of the population that use technology as often as younger adults".

The study also found that the use of social technology predicted lower levels of loneliness, which in turn predicted better mental and physical health. Participants who used social technology in general were more satisfied with life and had fewer depressive symptoms and chronic conditions, such as hypertension and diabetes.

"Each of the links between the use of social technology and physical and psychological health was mediated by the reduction of loneliness", said Chopik. "As we know, close relationships with other people are a great determinant of physical health and well-being, and social technology has the potential to cultivate successful relationships among older adults".

The end of digital gaps

The so-called "digital gap" has a series of consequences. In particular, for the elderly who live in large urban centers, where they invest more in digital services. So much so that those responsible must be aware that many of their residents could be left behind. The good news is that there are steps that can be taken to close the gap.

Perhaps because it represents a problem, it has been an area of ​​focus for many researchers who hope to develop strategies to increase literacy in the use of technology, especially among older adults.

In a novel approach to this problem, for example, several researchers devoted themselves to see how older adults could naturally learn to use new technologies, specifically tablets. To do this, they conducted interviews with 20 older adults from independent and assisted living communities who had reported having acquired one. Some respondents who bought a tablet reported that they were confident and excited to use the new device, while others who had received the device as a gift doubted more. Most, however, reported that the devices were easy to use.

Social support factors played an important role in allowing respondents to learn how to use a tablet. The support of the family, often of children or grandchildren, was the most common source of support, but the support of professionals or couples was also reported.

Interestingly, most learning tended to come from "playing" with the device. This trial and error technique is useful for people of any age to learn something new, and in this context, it seems to work well with older people.

The researchers noted that a combination of ease of use, social support and time to play with the device was the key to learning for these people. The support system allowed the participants to have enough confidence to explore and learn new things about the device, without having to worry that they could get to a problem they could not solve.

While this study focused on learning to use tablets, the results can be generalizable to other new technologies that older adults could benefit from learning to use.

Under the framework of: Programa Operativo Cooperación Transfronteriza España-Portugal
Sponsors: Fundación General de la Universidad de Salamanca Fundación del Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas Direção Geral da Saúde - Portugal Universidad del Algarve - Portugal