Jokes about elderly people using technology are plentiful. Yes, it can be humorous to tease those that have a hard time with technology. But the truth is that there are benefits if the elderly (really, any age) are willing to learn something new. Let’s take Facebook, for instance.
Janelle Wohltmann, a psychology graduate student at the University of Arizona, found that people over the age of 65 who learned to use Facebook saw an increase in cognitive performance and became more connected socially.
Yes, you read that correctly. Being connected socially increases cognitive skills. The kicker is that it doesn’t necessarily have to be a face-to-face connection.
“The idea evolved from two bodies of research,” Wohltmann said. “One, there is evidence to suggest that staying more cognitively engaged – learning new skills, not just becoming a couch potato when you retire but staying active – leads to better cognitive performing. It’s kind of this ‘use it or lose it’ hypothesis.
“There’s also a large body of literature showing that people who are more socially engaged, are less lonely, have more social support and are more socially integrated are also doing better cognitively in older age,” she continued.
More research is needed to determine if Facebook’s social aspect truly contributed to better cognitive performances. Still, Wohltmann feels that the site’s complex interaction is a key component in boosting cognitive behaviors.
“The Facebook interface is actually quite complex,” she said. “The big difference between the online diary and Facebook is that when you create a diary entry, you create the entry, you save it and that’s all you see, versus if you’re on Facebook, several people are posting new things, so new information is constantly getting posted.
“You’re seeing this new information coming in, and you need to focus on the new information and get rid of the old information, or keep it in mind if you want to go back and reference it later, so you have to constantly update what’s there in your attention,” she continued.
This gives hope to anyone that isn’t able to get out and meet people, either by situation or choice. If you can be social online, then you can boost your cognitive abilities. And I’m sure this can expand to include anyone who plays games such as Call of Duty, where you’re playing alongside or against other players.
No, this doesn’t take away from the value of face-to-face interaction and its many benefits, but it does show that our brains can clearly define “social” in more ways than we usually allow in our minds.
(Story materials from the University of Arizona/Alexis Blue. Image via Flickr: Sean Dreilinger/Creative Commons.)