Seniors can enjoy health benefits from using Facebook

Older adults are one of the fastest growing segments of Facebook users. In fact, according to the recent Pew Internet & American Life Project, an estimated 53 percent of adults 65 and older are already members of the popular social network. While most people recognize the website as a great way to stay connected to friends and family, new research suggests that using Facebook may also be a cornerstone of healthy aging

The findings come from a study led by Janelle Wohltmann, a graduate student from the University of Arizona. To measure the potential health benefits of Facebook, Wohltmann recruited three groups of seniors. One group was largely unfamiliar with Facebook and received training on how to use the website that included adding friends and making regular posts. The second was instructed on how to use a different social network and the third was given no training. 

By the end of the study, Wohltmann found the cohort that received training on Facebook performed about 25 percent better on a memory test that they were also given at the beginning of the trial. The improvement could be caused by a pair of factors, Wohltmann believes. For one, simply learning a new skill often has cognitive benefits, and the increased socialization brought on by the inclusion of Facebook may have led to an even greater effect.

"One of the take-home messages could be that learning how to use Facebook is a way to build what we call cognitive reserve, to help protect against and stave off cognitive decline due to normal age-related changes in brain function," she said.  

Of course, there are other ways to enjoy mental stimulation than logging on to Facebook. Continuing education for seniors is often cited as one of the best options, and many institutions offer classes specifically designed for older adults.