So, Grandma’s on Facebook and using social media…

Can’t say I’m not surprised. But what is startling is the rate of increase of use among our seniors using digital social media and closing a bit of the gap on the digital divide that exists.

According to PEW Internet and American Life Project, the 74 and over age group has shown a jump of social media use of 4% in 2008 to 16% in 2010; that’s a quadruple jump! Totally unexpected or maybe not? Just the natural chain of events in the evolving social media landscape? An inevitability? Perhaps. But, like so many other things in its short existence, social media networks have finally made inroads towards populations thought by many technologists as somewhat immune–the elderly–and with surprisingly positive effects.

So, why is Grandma on Facebook and surfing the blogosphere? And what could she possibly be doing there?

Therein lies a very simple rationale: to better improve the quality of their lives. By crossing that ‘digital divide’ seniors are better able to access health information, and reduce unnecessary trips to the local library and their MD to ask questions, and to gain better control of their individual health issues. Once again, access to technology levels the playing field and makes access to information a powerful thing.

Last year, the Department of Sociology and Social Work at the University of Alabama at Birmingham began a “five-year, $1.9 million National Institute on Aging (NIA) grant to study the ability of computer use and social media networking to enhance the quality of life of elderly adults through online social connections and easier access to health information.” And while the study is still in progress, its purpose cannot be denied as absolutely essential.

According to the principal researcher and sociologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Dr. Shelia Cotten, “a primary benefit of the study is that it will help decrease inequalities in access to health information due to age-related declines in mobility. An increasing amount of health information is available electronically…Once older adults cross the digital divide, they can access health information much more easily using the Internet than they can go to the library or visit a health-care professional.”

Time to start teaching the old dogs new tricks; time to empower those that face an overt (and not-so) societal barrage of ageism and anti-aging attitudes.

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