Older Adults and the Web, Social Media: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Increasingly, older adults are using the Internet and social media to research information, connect with health care providers, interact with family and friends, play games and even search for dating partners. In many ways, this is a good thing.

However, ScienceDaily recently reported on an article soon to be published in Gerontology conducted by researchers at the University of Luxembourg that underscores the benefits but smartly addresses potential problems associated with these activities. Here’s the scoop:

The Good: Information and connection—the essence of the Internet—is very important for the well-being of older adults who may be limited in their ability to get out and interact. At its best, the Web, social media in particular, creates communities that can be sustaining for isolated individuals.

The Bad: Older adults are often targeted for scams and may not be as savvy as younger Internet and social media users when it comes to recognizing phony websites or phishing e-mails. According to  the National Council on Aging (NCOA), they are less familiar with firewalls, virus protection, not as likely to have secure passwords and more trusting that younger users.

The Ugly: There is lack of clarity and consistency about how online accounts and content are handled after death. The law does not treat these accounts as other assets, which are generally handed done to heirs; with that, different sites have different policies.

The onset of cognitive impairment raises another concern. What can be done about inappropriate content posted by older adults with early stages of dementia? Depending on the nature of the content, the person and the family, it is easy to see how this could devolve into a very ugly situation. This becomes a legal issue that is not easily resolved.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions regarding any and all of the issues raised here—the good, the bad and the ugly. Has anyone observed how connection increases well-being? Or known an older adult who was the victim of a scam? Or dealt with closing a social media account for a parent? Or attempted to have someone else’s inappropriate content removed on-line?

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