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  • Patricia Faust

Your Older Brain on Social Media - the Good and the Frustrating


It is not an unusual statistic to learn that 90% of young adults (age 18 – 29) are logging in to social networking sites. A surprising stat may be that the percentage of older adults (age 65+) on social media has tripled since the Pew Research Center has been tracking social media usage back in 2005 (Timontech, Nov. 2015). “While usage among young adults started to level off as early as 2010, since then there has been a surge in usership among those 65 and older. In 2005, 2% of seniors used social media compared with 35% today.” – Pew Research Center report on Social Media, Oct. 8, 2015.


Social Media

82% of boomers on the internet have a social media account. (Forbes.com 2018) Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and many more that I am not familiar with have gained a foothold in the boomer group. The ability to connect with long lost friends, to be part of groups that foster thought and discussion, support groups that can offer information and understanding, and bridge generational gaps with younger or older family members that are separated by distance – long or short is the draw that brings boomers in.

Trained in Social Media? Experience Better Cognition and Better Health

Of course with this technology there is the need to educate those of us who have not grown up in the world of computers and the internet. We respond very well to this technology. A research study out of England and Italy found that when seniors were trained in the use of social media, as well as Skype and email, they perform better cognitively and experience improved health. (Anita Keniel, Huffington Post) Neuroeconomist (Neuroeconomics – the combination of biology, neuroscience, and psychology) Paul Zak discovered that the brain interprets social media interactions just as it does ‘real world’ ones through the release of oxytocin – the chemical that enhances bonding and makes us feel good. Every time that we receive a ‘like’ on one of our posts on social media, an area of our brain called the nucleus accumbens lights up to give us a sense of gratification. This feeling explains a lot about why social media is so appealing and all-consuming.


Facebook and Memory

There is a perspective that engaging with Facebook can have a positive aspect on memory. When you check on your friends’ Facebook status updates and regularly participate in this activity the more positively working memory grows. Taking in more information, more status updates, more images, more interactions pushes our brain to keep up. In this perspective, the more the brain exercises, the stronger it can grow. Seeing new updates means that you have to remember that new data and update the ‘database’ of memories we all have. You need to remember this new information so that you can comment the next time you see that person. This is considered social practice and it is not a new practice. We did this long before we had a social platform to keep us informed. The difference – the idea of “transactive memory” – using others around you to fill in the blanks of your memory – is one that social media has been shown to be affected. Social media can be the holding place for many memories that clutter our brains. Previously we counted on spouses, family and friends to fill in certain memories but now social media is acting as the storage bank for this information. Because we get automatic reminders of birthdays, contact information, and other supporting information, our brain can off-load all of that information and make room for more important things.


The Downside to Engaging in Social Media

There is a downside to engaging in social media so often. The danger of information overload is a definite risk. When so much information is coming in so often our memory suffers. Our prefrontal cortex requires a lot of energy to process all of this information. In trying to keep up, it can lose its capacity to absorb any more information. If the information can’t get in – there is no memory made. One other problem is switching between all of the different streams of information that come in at one time. As we get older we cannot concentrate and focus like we used to. Switching between information streams becomes more difficult. We are not able to filter out what information is relevant to achieving our current goal. The failure to filter means we are slowed down by irrelevant information.


Social Media Can Decrease Our Quality of Life

Perhaps one of the most significant outcomes is that all of the time we spend online can keep us from getting out and doing more fulfilling things. Social media can take time away from doing more productive things. In retirement, older adults have much to offer in terms of community engagement, volunteerism, mentoring or even interacting with grandkids. These are important quality of life activities that keep our brain functioning at a high level.

I am on social media all the time. My Boomer Brain is a blogsite; it has its own Facebook page; I receive new subscriptions to the My Boomer Brain newsletter; as well as, send out notifications when I have a new blog being posted or I am participating in a local event that people might want to attend. My progress in this realm has been very slow – at least to me. It is not intuitive to jump online and know exactly where to go to accomplish something. My frustration lies in not knowing enough – fast enough. But I am surrounded by many friends who help me get past my technological barriers.

Where have you heard that ‘moderation is the key’ to almost everything. It is true with social media also. We better learn the playing field because ultimately, that is where we will need to be – in moderation!


References:

Argronon, M. (Dec. 23, 2014). Why your grandmother should use social media. Retrieved April 25, 2017 from https://blogs.wsj.com/briefly/2014/12/23/the-benefits-and-risks-of-getting- older-adults-on-social-media-at-a-glance/


Howard, J. (Oct. 30, 2013) This is how the internet is rewiring your brain. Retrieved April 18, 2017 from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/30/shocking-ways-internet-rewires-brain_n_4136942.html


Kamiel, A. A hot trend: the internet, social media & the elderly. Retrieved April 25, 2017 fromhttp://www.huffingtonpost.com/anita-rn-mps/older-people-social-media_b_9191178.html


TIMONTECH (Nov. 9, 2015). Older adults on social media. Retrieved April 25, 2017 from https://www.theseniorlist.com/2015/11/older-aduts-on-social-media/

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