senior phoneResearch has shown that seniors, especially those 80 and older, can benefit greatly by being ¨connected¨ to family and friends via the Internet and making use of social media. While many would like to do so they are unable to and require assistance in order to acquire the prerequisite knowledge and skills, according to a new market research report.

More than one-quarter of seniors 80-plus (27 percent) are “virtual shut-ins” unable or not interested in using the Internet or social networking as a result of their inability to use the Internet or the need for assistance, according to “Rewiring Aging.”

Sponsored by Brookdale Senior Living and conducted by market researchers at Kelton in collaboration with the Stanford Center on Longevity, the survey is the first in-depth study to examine how online social networking and the use of other digital telecommunications technology can improve well-being and quality of life among seniors, the fastest growing demographic segment in the U.S.

Seniors and the Internet
The negative effects of being virtual shut-ins are akin to those of seniors who are isolated and unable to venture out due to physical disabilities or cognitive impairment, the researchers found. Virtual shut-ins reported lower overall satisfaction with life, poorer physical health and greater loneliness than the survey group in its entirety.

However, nearly 6 in 10 seniors surveyed said they believed communication with family and friends could improve through the use of technology. Those who use social networking technology said they were more satisfied with their lives, were healthier and were more likely to achieve life goals than those who did not.

Few seniors 80 and older are realizing these benefits, however, the research partners found. Only one-third use a personal computer at least once a month. Fewer than 1 in 5 text. Nearly half said they don’t make use of the Internet or social networking because it takes too long to understand and keep up with technological change.

On the other hand, one-third of respondents said they would like to text or video chat with family and friends. Over one-quarter said they would be interested in taking group classes to learn how. Only five percent said they were completely opposed to new technology.

“Human connection is crucial for people at all ages, but especially so for seniors,” Brookdale’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Kevin O’Neil, a board-certified internist and geriatrician, was quoted as saying.

“Loneliness in this age group is associated with shorter life spans, chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, depression and even dementia. That’s why engaging seniors with others is a focus of our communities. Helping those in their 80s and above connect through technology is an opportunity to enhance their well-being even further.”

Added Brookdale VP of Resident and Family Engagement Sara Terry: ¨This study puts data to what we have been seeing on a daily basis across our organization as we help our residents connect through technology.”

Brookdale has seen seniors in its care facilities learn to use Skype and social networking technology with its InTouch computer system, which is designed to be easy for seniors to use. Brookdale is also developing an iPad mentor program.

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