The elderly might not be the first age group you would associate with social networking platforms, such as Facebook. However, with more than a third of adults having no one to turn to in a crisis, an online friend could turn out to be a lifeline.
In an online survey by Red Cross, it was found that almost three-quarters of adults had been through a period of crisis. Nearly four in 10 of those expected to suffer another before 2019.
Of the 2,000 plus people surveyed by the Red Cross, many were worried about getting older, losing their independence and becoming isolated. These concerns are even more serious for elderly people without any close friends or family.
However, according to chief executive of the Red Cross, Sir Nick Young, 30% of people won’t turn to charity for help because they are embarrassed.
Mobility and social interaction reduced
One of the first things people consider when they start to lose their mobility is how they are going to get out and about or move around their home. If in a wheelchair, or using a walking aid, simple tasks become increasingly difficult.
This often prevents people from doing the things they used to. Whether they are used to popping out to the shops, going to bingo or just catching up with friends for coffee, all these things are often limited once you start to lose independent mobility.
There are solutions for around the house, such as home lifts for wheelchairs. These can help older people regain independence and live alone for longer, but they don’t address the long term impact of losing contact with others.
Links to life expectancy
A few years ago, research found that social relationships have a significant impact on life expectancy. The study, published in PIoS medicine, found that having social connections can improve chances of survival by as much as 50%.
It also claimed that a lack of social interaction could be as harmful as being a smoker or alcoholic and more harmful than being obese or not exercising.
One of the authors of the study, Julianne Holt-Lunstad, said that a connection to other people gives us a sense of purpose and that generally results in them taking “fewer risks” and “better care of themselves”.
This is where online platforms, such as Facebook, could play a role. Becoming friendly with other like minded people on social networks could be one solution to the worries of the older generation.
There is a misconception that the over 65s lack the necessary know-how when it comes to technology and the internet, but official figures suggest that older people are getting online.
The Office for National Statistics found that in 2013 37% of over 65s are online – four times as many as in 2006, when just 9% had access to the internet. It also reports that 10% of people above the government retirement age are on sites like Facebook and Twitter.
All this suggests that as larger numbers of over 65s adopt technology and use Facebook to socialise, they could potentially improve their life expectancy.