Grandma On Facebook? It Could Be Good For Her Health

Aug 31, 2016

Professor Bill Chopik is here to make you feel really bad about all the times you wanted to run, screaming, from the room after trying to teach your grandparents how to download a photo attachment from an email.

The Michigan State University professor just published a study looking at how nearly 600 seniors (average age 68) feel about the technology they use to communicate, how willing they are to learn new types of technology, and how those responses correlate with their loneliness and overall health.

This story was produced by Michigan Public Radio.

“They’re really enthusiastic about it,” Chopik says. “They think it’s easy to use, they think it saves time, it’s a necessity, and they’re overall satisfied with it – but they also acknowledge the difficulty of sort of keeping up. But as a younger person, I feel that too, so I don’t know if that’s specific to older adults.”

The survey asked seniors about their use of social media like Facebook, video calls like Skype, and smartphones.  

The vast majority said they are either “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with the technology they use overall. And more than 70% of those surveyed also said they’re not “opposed to learning new technologies.”

But among the 30%  who said they are opposed to learning new technologies, “too complicated” and “too expensive” were the most popular reasons given.

Chopik then looked at how those older adults answered questions about their feelings of loneliness, depression, well-being and overall health.

“As predicted, greater technology use was associated with lower loneliness, better health, fewer chronic illnesses, and lower depression,” Chopik’s study finds.

“For a lot of people, especially older adults who might be a little isolated from the community, it sort of provides them a virtual window into life, so they can keep up with their family and friends,” Chopik says. “And then loneliness is associated with a lot of negative health behaviors … they tend to overeat, they don’t go outside, they avoid other people.”

But the study also notes it’s hard to figure out whether tech-savvy seniors are healthier because they use Facebook – or if they’re willing to tackle new tech because they’re already relatively healthy and happy.  

Still, Chopik says, the next time your great aunt “likes” every single thing you post, remember that it may be making her feel more connected.

Next up, Chopik’s hoping to get funding for a new study looking for better, more effective ways of getting adults comfortable with new types of technology.

“We’re going to see if we can actually teach older adults the benefits of this, and help them lead better lives,” he says. And for those who get frustrated, he says, they’ll try figure “why do they particularly struggle with adopting these technologies, [and] are there ways that we can introduce it that’s a little less scary and overwhelming?”

You can read the full study in the journal of Cypberpyschology, Behavior and Social Networking.