According to preliminary research from a University of Arizona graduate student, learning to use Facebook could offer adults over the age of 65 a serious boost in cognitive function.
Janelle Wohltmann presented her findings on the subject at this year’s International Neuropsychological Society Annual Meeting in Hawaii(1).
Although her research is still in the preliminary stages, Wohltmann believes that learning to use Facebook could be the key to improving “updating” – the process by which our brains continuously monitor, add, and delete the contents of our working memory – in seniors.
The Positive Effects Of Social Media
To test her theory, Wohltmann facilitated a Facebook training course for a group of older adults who had never before used the site. The members of the training course were required to make friends on Facebook and post on the site at least once a day.
A second group of non-Facebook using seniors were taught to use an online diary site on which entries are kept private rather than shared, and there is no social component. A third group received no training or time on social media or online diary sites.
In the follow-ups to the training, the seniors who had learned to use Facebook performed roughly 25% better on memory-related tasks than they had before learning to engage with the site – while participants in the other groups saw no change in their performance.
Accounting For The Impact Of Facebook
In a recent press release on the research, Wohltmann explained that there are numerous reasons why learning to use Facebook can improve cognitive function in older adults.
“The idea evolved from two bodies of research,” she explained. “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 added(2).
Here is where further analysis is needed, according to Wohltmann – she can’t say for sure that using Facebook made participants more socially connected and less lonely, nor can she tell with certainty whether or not Facebook’s social aspect contributed to improvements in cognitive performance.
But Wohltmann thinks that some of the improvement may be due to Facebook’s unique and complex user interface, which requires users to stay engaged in order to make sense of the information they’re constantly being provided with.
Accounting For Seniors Concerns
There’s another body of research that shows that seniors are less inclined to use sites like Facebook due to a variety of specific concerns they may have about the site. Account security and the overall accessibility of the interface are major barriers to Facebook use for older adults, according to one study, which proposed a new Facebook interface specifically for seniors(3).
According to Wohltmann, this is where proper training on safe ways to use Facebook is important for seniors. “I wouldn’t suggest to anyone to get out and get Granny online right away, unless you or somebody else can provide the proper education and support to that person, so that they can use it in a safe way,” she said.[mks_toggle title=”sources” state=”close “]