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Research Shows Facebook Provides Cognitive Benefits to Seniors

Results from a new study on seniors’ use of social networking sites suggest that older adults who use Facebook may experience an improvement in cognitive abilities.

Janelle Wohltmann, a graduate student at the University of Arizona set out to see whether teaching older adults how to use the social networking site Facebook could help improve their cognitive performance and make them feel more socially connected. 

Wohltmann, along with UA’s head of psychology, Betty Glisky, gathered 42 participants for the study, ranging in age from 68 to 91. The seniors completed a series of exams measuring social variables, such as their levels loneliness and social support, as well as their cognitive abilities. 

The participants were then divided in to three groups. The first group was trained on how to use Facebook, and asked to become “friends” with fellow members of the group and post messages at least once per day. The next was trained to use Penzu.com, an online diary site in which entries are kept private, with no social sharing component. This group was also instructed to post daily, using only short messages to mimic the length of messages typically posted on Facebook. The last group was told they were on a "wait-list" for Facebook training, which they did not actually complete. 

Eight weeks later, all three groups were reevaluated using tests similar to those they took at the beginning of the study. The group that learned to use Facebook scored 25 percent higher than they did prior to training. The other two groups saw no significant change in performance. 

While the results indicate that using Facebook enhanced the seniors’ cognitive abilities, more research is need to discover whether the improvement was due to the social nature of the site, the mental activity of learning something completely new, or a combination of those two factors. 

"The idea evolved from two bodies of research," Wohltmann said. "One, there is evidence to suggest that staying more cognitively engaged – learning new skills, not just becoming a couch potato when you retire but staying active – leads to better cognitive performing. It's kind of this 'use it or lose it' hypothesis." 

"There's also a large body of literature showing that people who are more socially engaged, are less lonely, have more social support and are more socially integrated are also doing better cognitively in older age," she said. 

Wohltmann added that although teaching seniors how to use social media sites would be beneficial to them socially and cognitively, it is important that they understand how to use the technology properly, so they can keep their private information secure. 

Read the article: Facebook Benefits Older Adults By Giving Them Cognitive Boost, Study Says.

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