Social media is a normal part of the twenty first century. Many people engage in some form of social media, whether it be to connect with friends and family or to get connected with the world as a whole. Snapchat and Instagram, in particular, are widely used as not only a social media platform, but as a means of communication as well. They can be useful because they provide a fast and interactive way to communicate. A picture of oneself or of where they are can more directly communicate what is happening and keep those who are communicating aware of each other’s actions. Snapchat was inherently made to send photos that immediately delete after being viewed. Instagram followed suit by creating their own version within their application. These applications are both suited for the young but may be useful to older adults. To see one’s family more regularly, even just through photos or short images, is crucial in the psychological well-being of the aging. These applications are not designed for older adults but, if they were, there would be positive outcomes.
To begin, Snapchat has stayed fairly static since its release. Despite additions to the software, the overall concept has remained the same. One can send photos for a set duration of time, and once they are viewed by the recipient, they are immediately deleted. Screenshots of the images can be taken but the sender is notified when this occurs. Instagram, however, did not start out this way. It began as a strictly pictures only social media platform that focused more on images rather than words. In contrast to Facebook, one cannot make a “status” without an image attached to it. More recently, Instagram added a feature similar to that of Snapchat. Once can “direct message” people they are following. Although there is a more limited selection of what one can do with this feature compared to Snapchat, it provides the same experience of immediate, but limited, visual communication with photos.
Additionally, it is important to illustrate why Snapchat and Instagram would be of interest to older adults. Garcia et al. conducted research on the positive impacts of social interaction on the quality of life of older adults. They did a cross-sectional survey on 3600 older adults who are not institutionalized for any reason. The participants were at least sixty years of age and older. The goal of this study was to find positive physical and emotional health outcomes related to socialization in older adults. Through a questionnaire, Garcia et al. were able to find that limited contact with friends was associated with lower quality of life (Garcia et al., 2005). With this research, the importance of social contact with friends for older adults is clarified. It shows the value for seniors to use social media, such as Snapchat and Instagram because it can increase their socialization with friends and family and, in turn, increase their quality of life as well.
Though it is found to be beneficial for seniors to stay connected, social media platforms are not designed for easy use by older adults when considering normative health declines as one ages. To be more specific, the layout of Snapchat is not very direct. One must be able to locate the directions of how to do different actions but the writing is very small. Also, depending on lighting, the buttons can be hard to see and pushing buttons, such as send, may be particularly difficult. Instagram is very similar in this way. Those with decreasing vision abilities may find some frustration in working with these applications. Schilling et al. describe how vision loss in older adults affects overall well-being. They studied a sample of 364 older adults with “age-related macular degeneration” in a longitudinal study to look at strategies older adults used to gain more control in their lives and how it relates to emotional well-being. It was found that increases in control of one’s life was associated with higher happiness ratings and a decrease in depression ratings, even as physical abilities continued to declined (Schilling et al., 2016). This research applies directly to how the design of an application can directly affect an older adult’s emotional well-being. Snapchat and Instagram are not structured to benefit normative vision loss in older adults and, according to this research, may lead to higher depression rates. This is because the frustration of not being able to see what one is doing on the application can become overwhelming. The understanding of the platforms becomes out of their hands and the older adult cannot take control of figuring it out for themselves. They may need to find outside help to send a photo or to learn the platforms as a whole. This concept of control is what causes gains in happiness for older adults, according to Schilling et al. so a with a lack of it in using Snapchat and Instagram, it can have the opposite effect. Rather than the experience being socially beneficial to the emotional well-being of an older adult, it becomes a more frustrating and depression-inducing experience.
Beyond normative aging, dementia can cause a whole other variety of issues with social media. Some symptoms of dementia that could affect ability to use Snapchat and Instagram, in particular, are confusion and inability to remember recent events. Risk of dementia significantly increases as one gets to age sixty-five (Burzynska, 2017). Due to this, it is an important factor to consider when thinking about the use and accessibility of social media platforms.
Moreover, despite the difficulty with vision and dementia, there are ways in which both Snapchat and Instagram could improve their applications to better suit older adults. For example, making the various editing options more available. Instead of clicking or swiping demands, there could be large buttons with large words before or after a photo or video is taken. To separate these options can increase clarity and be smoother to use. Furthermore, rather than editing while the image is portrayed, which could cause confusion and does not provide an adequate contrast to the buttons, the editing portion can be a separate screen so the buttons are easier to see. Although Instagram does this with its generic format, the direct messaging platform does not. These are just a few suggestions of how these applications could be improved for the decline in vision in older adults. In regards to those with dementia, socialization is just as important. To work with some of the symptoms of dementia, these platforms could include more abilities to replay the photo or video to remind the user of what they are replying to. It may be hard to remember what was just shown so being able to see it again a few times may aid the older adult.
Overall, social media can be of great help to older adults. Gaining more control over one’s ability to connect with loved ones can cause higher rates of happiness and overall well-being. Instagram and Snapchat can be easy and effective ways to gain this control through social media. These platforms are not designed for this age group and may cause the reverse effect due to normative vision loss in aging adults and the difficulty in seeing the buttons to perform actions. With the significant risks of developing dementia in later life, it is an important factor to consider as well when considering the design of these platforms. Snapchat and Instagram can be altered to better aid older adults by increasing functionality and visibility of the various actions within the software. With this, many emotional health benefits may be had by older adults.
Burzynska, A. (2017). Lecture.
Garcia, E.L., Banegas, J.R., Perez-Regadera, A.G., Cabrera, R.H., & Rodriguez-Artalejo, F. (2005). Social network and health-related quality of life in older adults: A population-based study in spain. Quality of Life Research, 14(2), 511-520. doi: 10.1007/s11136-004-5329-z
Schilling, O.K., Wahl, H., Boerner, K., Horowitz, A., Reinhardt, J.P., Cimarolli, V.R.,…Heckhausen, J. (2016). Developmental regulation with progressive vision loss: Use of control strategies and affective well-being. Developmental Psychology, 52(4), 679-694. doi: 10.1037/dev0000099