Social media use linked to less chronic illness, loneliness in seniors

Facebook, Skype and instant messaging are among technology applications that may lessen depression among seniors, a new study has found.

Data from nearly 600 participants in the national Health and Retirement Study showed that older adults rated their health better and had fewer depressive symptoms when they used social technology. Seniors who reported using the websites and apps also had fewer symptoms of chronic illnesses such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

Use of social technology also predicted lower levels of loneliness, and better overall mental and physical health, in the seniors whose data was analyzed as part of the study.

The study's results, published online in Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, show that the so-called “digital divide” — the gap between younger and older technology users — isn't as grim as once thought, said lead researcher William Chopik, Ph.D.

More than 95% of the seniors including in Chopik's study said they were satisfied with the technology, while 72% reported being open to learning new technologies.

“Despite the attention that the digital divide has garnered in recent years, a large proportion of older adults use technology to maintain their social networks and make their lives easier,” Chopik said. “As we know, close relationships with other people are a large determinant of physical health and well-being, and social technology has the potential to cultivate successful relationships among older adults.”