Pensioners showed improved cognitive capacity and increased sense of self-competence after using social media as part of a two-year project, according to a new study.
The project, called Ages 2.0, aimed to assess the effects of the Internet and social media in active aging, but also address the social seclusion issue. A group of elderly people in Somerset received specially-designed computers and broadband and training in how to use them.
The results showed that the participants who received training had increased feelings of self-competence, engaged more in social activity and showed improved cognitive capacity. According to researchers, connecting with friends and relatives via Skype and email was a particularly enjoyable activity.
"Human beings are social animals and it's no surprise that we tend to do better when we have the capacity to connect with others,” said Dr Thomas Morton, who led the project in the UK.
"This study shows how technology can be a useful tool for enabling social connections and that supporting older people in our community to use technology effectively can have important benefits for their mental health and well-being."
A total of 76 people were involved in the project, aged between 60 and 95. They received an Easy PC package with a touchscreen computer, keyboard and broadband Internet connection. They were able to keep the computer for 12 months, including the three-month training period.
"Having this training changes people's lives and opens up their worlds, invigorates their minds and, for lots of us, gives us a completely different way of recognising our worth as we age,” said a participant.
With the number of people aged 65 and over expected to grow form 17.4 per cent to 29.5 per cent until 2060 across Europe, the aging population is one of the major challenges of the century.
The project was funded by the EU and was led by the University of Exeter, in partnership with Somerset Care Ltd and Torbay & Southern Devon Health and Care NHS Trust.