Up to Date with Communication Apps: Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp for Older Adults By: Anna Grado

The internet is becoming more popular day by day, and so are many apps for smartphones. There are a numerous amount of apps that have different features and are for different things, this paper will focus on two messaging apps; one, the Facebook Messenger app, and the other the WhatsApp app among older adults.

Facebook Messenger is a specific app for only the messaging part of Facebook. It is a free app that allows you to instantly message, call, and video call any of your Facebook friends. It is a very useful app that one can use to get a hold of a family member or a friend who is nearby, and you can also send pictures to one another. Not only may it be used to get ahold of someone instantly, but it is an app that can be accessed from many different parts of the world. Another messaging app that is popular is WhatsApp. This app is very similar to the Facebook Messenger app because it is also used to instantly message and call someone, but one difference is that you cannot video call. Also with WhatsApp it is not connected to another app, like the Facebook Messenger app that you need to have a Facebook in order to login into Messenger. The WhatsApp app works with your cellphone number and stores your contacts for you. Another way WhatsApp differs from Messenger is that you can create a status for your contacts to see, which can be pictures that you take, selfies, and etc. Both are quite useful apps to message a family member or friend who you need to talk to. One example for why I use these two apps is I use it to talk to my family who is in Mexico because as long as they have the app they can message and call me back free. It beats the hassle of paying for a long distance call with a calling card or getting the long distance calling feature added to my cell phone for an extra cost.

The Facebook Messenger app should be of interest to older adults because already more than half of older adults over the age of 65 are using the Facebook app (Sinclair, & Grieve, 2017). Not only would it allow them to communicate but it also has other benefits. One 2017 study having to do with Facebook among older adults and social connectedness, Sinclair and Grieve conducted research in Australia on 280 participants who were between the ages of 55 and 81. They wanted to measure the social connectedness of these older adult, and did so by having them rate how connected they felt based on a six point scale. Participants were asked questions such as if they feel close to their Facebook friends and then were asked to rate the questions based on if they strongly agree, agree, or disagree, and etc. Results from the study showed that the average amount of time spent logged onto Facebook was 126 minutes, which was strongly correlated with social connectedness among the older adult participants. The researchers concluded that the more time spent on Facebook the more socially connected older adults felt (Sinclair, & Grieve, 2017). Older adults should get to know the Facebook Messenger app because it is also a way for them to stay in touch with relatives, and on top of this feel socially connected with them (Sinclair, & Grieve, 2017). It is also a fun way to stay in touch with friends and family because the fact that they could send instant snap shots of anything, and they would also be able to not only talk with friends and family, but also video chat with them. This is a nice feature of the app especially for older adults who haven’t seen their children in a few years or haven’t met their young grandchildren.

The WhatsApp app should be of interest for seniors because it is a great application to use if you want to communicate with anyone. In a 2016 study on older adults and smartphone apps, Rosales and Fernández-Ardèvol did research in Spain on 238 people who are smartphone users from the ages of 18 to 81. They then divided the older adults into three groups of 25 who were between the ages of 55 to 81 and tracked their activity for a month on their smartphones. As for the other set of participants there phone usage was also tracked. The researchers then tracked specifically which apps the older adults accessed, the time and date they were used, and how long they accessed the apps for. Results showed that 2247 different apps were used, apps were then categorized and put into a list by the most used. Results showed that the most used apps were instant messaging/calling app, and the one that was most common was the WhatsApp app, and specifically the older adult participants reported that they used WhatsApp substantially to make phone calls, and text their friends and family. Rosales and Fernández-Ardèvol (2016) concluded that since the study took place in Spain this may be why is was the most common because many phone companies in Spain charge per text message, and it is easier to use an app that goes based on data usage and/or Wi-Fi usage instead of per text message sent. Older adults would benefit from using this app because it would allow them to stay connected to family and friends, and is a very inexpensive way to do so. The app, because it allows you to communicate it can also be used to maintain the strong relationships an older adult may have with their family members, or even to help a weak relationship to become strong (Rosales & Fernández-Ardèvol, 2016). Not only would WhatsApp allow them to even communicate with their relatives who are nearby, but it would also let them communicate to someone who is in a whole other country. It could also be of interest for them because in case of an emergency, all they would have to do is click on the app’s short cut that they can make for a specific family member and click ‘call’.

Both apps are ultimately great for communicating with loved ones and friends, and also as stated above allow the older adults who are using them to feel socially connected, but these apps also have some functions that may not be best suited for the usage of older adults. In both apps the letters on the keyboard in order to type a message may be too small for older adults to see even if they have glasses. The buttons for the actual letters are tiny and this could be a problem for older adults because as we age so do our eyes. As we age our cornea becomes yellowish and causes us to see blurry images because less light passes through our lens (Burzynska, 2017). This aging aspect of the eye could create a problem for older adults using these messaging apps because they may not be able to see the screen correctly or which buttons they are pushing. This can be solved though because the sharpness on smartphones can be increased in order to see the outline of things better. Also one can change the phones settings to make the keyboard larger, and you can also turn on a setting where when you push a letter from the keyboard and it becomes two times larger so you know which letter you are pressing. Also as our eye ages our adaptation to changing light slows down increasingly (Burzynska, 2017). This could be a negative factor for older adults who are using these apps because if they are in a dark room, and go to look at a message they received in may take some time for them to be able to see the screen because of the drastic change of dark to light. This can be fixed though with the settings on the phone specifically having to do with the brightness of the phone. On the smartphones one can change the brightness of the phone to one’s liking, but on mostly all phones there is a check mark near where one can lower the brightness that makes the phone automatically adjust to the light that you are in. Another aspect that could make using these apps easier to use is the voice command that almost all phones have. With the voice command older adults could say, for example, “Call Leslie using Facebook Messenger” and it would call them using the app. By using this feature on the phone it would allow older adults to easily use the apps to communicate, and also take advantage of the features that their phone has.

Older adults should use the Facebook Messenger app and/or the WhatsApp app because they will provide them with a way to stay connected with friends and family and although there may be some features that may not be best suitable for older adults there are many ways around these that will allow them to access these apps to their full extent.



Burzynska, A. (2017). Physical aging: Joints, vision, hearing, and balance [PowerPoint slides].   Retrieved from Colorado State University

Rosales, A., & Fernández-Ardèvol, M. (2016). Beyond WhatsApp: Older people and smartphones. Romanian Journal of Communication and Public Relations, 18(1), 27-47. doi:10.21018/rjcpr.2016.1.200

Sinclair, T. J., & Grieve, R. (2017). Facebook as a source of social connectedness in older adults. Computers in Human Behavior66363-369. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2016.10.003HDFS 312


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