28 September 2021

Stay connected with social media

Retirees and Social Media

Retirement can mean a bulging calendar of social activities for some people, but it may also increase isolation for others. A number of factors can contribute to which way that pendulum swings, including health, mobility, living circumstances and how predisposed people are to seek out connections with others.

Loneliness can be an issue in the later years, but one way that many retirees are choosing to interact these days is via social media. For those new to using the technology it may seem a bit overwhelming at first, but social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram, can provide access to like-minded people, interesting topics, events and friendships - providing people understand how to keep themselves safe online.

According to several studies, social media seems on the whole to have a positive effect on retiree’s wellbeing. In fact, internet use, in general, has been shown to reduce the risk of depression in older people by around a third and help maintain more agile cognitive function. This included those using platforms not technically classed as social media, such as email, Skype, Facetime and Zoom.

Video calling is particularly popular with seniors wanting to keep in touch with family and can provide a much-valued thread to grandchildren who are growing up as “digital natives” completely familiar with the technology.

Other positive functions of social media particularly enjoyed by retirees are the ability to reach out to or stay in touch with people from their past, as well as easy access to community, national and international news.

Globally, Facebook is the most-used social media platform for people aged 65 or over, with video streaming site Youtube in second place - although that is reversed for all other age groups down to 18 years.

It is interesting that according to a study by the University of Missouri, in younger age groups sites like Facebook can actually increase depression, tied to a lower sense of self-esteem when feeling constantly compared with unrealistic, or ‘cultivated’ portrayals of others on social media. For retirees who were primarily using social media to keep in touch with others, the depression risk did not increase.

It is important though, to understand social media is not a complete alternative to in-person interaction. Retiree isolation is a problem causing negative health effects, and social media use can help alleviate some of that, but it is not enough to entirely avoid the emotional, physical and mental repercussions of retiree isolation.

If retirees - and importantly their families too - fall into the habit of using technology platforms instead of interacting in person, the risks of isolation and loneliness can increase. Balancing between both is the best approach.

But what about safety?

We often hear horror stories of scams, fraudulent activity, inappropriate material and more related to social media use. It’s true and unfortunate that these things do exist, however, some basic education around how to stay safe online is the key.

Spotting scam emails is a whole different topic and not really related to social media, although the basic premise of never giving out personal information, passwords or financial details online - no matter how legitimate something looks - is the main thing.

There are plenty of resources available to help retirees learn how to use technology, brush up on their existing skills and stay safe online. The local Citizens Advice Bureau, library or senior support service should be able to help in this area. There are also businesses that specialise in helping seniors use technology safely, as well as classes provided by community organisations.

With a little practice, knowledge of the benefits and risks, and some safety basics in place, social media can be a fulfilling and connecting experience for retirees.

Photo of Sadie Beckman
Written by:

Sadie Beckman

Sadie is a writer, qualified multimedia journalist and content creator with a decade of experience. Her work has been consistently published by a wide range of outlets, magazines, newspapers, websites and platforms nationally, including by the country's top media companies, and she was recently a Voyager Media Awards national finalist.

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