Facebook and eHarmony, Seniors’ New Communication Platforms, by Maireny Medina

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Introduction

In today’s day in age, technology and online services take up a huge portion of people’s everyday life, including older adults. The transition into older adulthood can be a difficult one because of the negative stereotypes mainstream society places upon older adults, medical setbacks, relocating into new homes or assisted care living facilities, and losing loved ones. Two services that older adults could use to avoid feeling lonely or disconnected from their loved ones and to create new meaningful relationships are Facebook and eHarmony.  Both of these websites can be used for older adults to gain a sense of community and support, maybe something they could have lost in their transition in older adulthood.

Facebook

            This online network could be a beneficial source for older adults to keep in contact with their loved ones and to make new connections with friends. In some instance, older adults are transitioned into homes or assisted living spaces, causing them to be separated from their families and friends. Some may be losing their family members and friends to diseases and death—making older adulthood lonely.

Some of Facebook’s features that could be beneficial for older adults are, photo sharing, messenger, and Facebook groups. Facebook Messenger has new updates that make it easier for family members and friends to communicate with each other. This would be easier for older adults to stay in contact with their friends and family when they are too busy to meet. Through Facebook messenger, older adults can stay updated throughout the day of what is going on with their families, they can make plans to meet up, and send each other quick messages. One feature of Facebook messenger that is most prominent for the advantage of older adults is the option to video chat with others. This creates a more personal form of communication for older adults and those they want to get in contact with. Older adults can talk to their loved ones through video chat and see their faces and environment in the moment. This is the closest thing they can get to personal contact with their family members who may be far away from them. Another feature useful for older adults are Facebook groups—older adults could be part of groups who are interested in the same things, who have the same hobbies, or are having similar experiences. This could make older adults feel more connected and included in a community, something they could be lacking due to distance or limited mobility. If older adults are bedridden, cannot transport themselves, or have transferred to new homes, they can turn to their mobile devices or computers to stay connected. These features could be updates to help older adults use them effectively. Facebook already provides the option to send voice messages through messenger making it easier for older adults to express themselves even if they are suffering from joint problems such as rheumatoid arthritis. This condition can make it more difficult for older adults to navigate the website. By implementing voice commands throughout all of Facebook, older adults could find what they are looking for more easily and quicker—especially those who deal with swelling joints and stiff fingers. Creating a more vision friendly platform would make it easier for older adults to see what their Facebook feed shows. This could be done by using contrasting colors that clearly indicate the different pieces of Facebook. According to Burzynska’s (2017) lecture, there are several changes in older adults lives that make it more difficult for them to adjust. Their eyes cannot adjust as quickly when going into a bright or dark environment, it becomes more difficult for older adults to move their eyes, and their vision is not as clear. These physical changes could make it harder for older adults to use social media, if they are accommodated. Creating a way older adults could speak to navigate through Facebook and have their content read to them could make it easier for those whose vision has decreased.

Through their research, Aarts, Peek, and Wouters (2014), explained how social media affects older adults who are suffering of loneliness when transitioned into a senior home. Their research expresses there should be a concern for older adults’ feelings of loneliness and withdrawal. This is enforced by people who stereotype them or do not give the chance to make new meaningful relationships. Their research explained how social media does not entirely make up for older adults feeling lonely and it should not be used individually as a form of intervention. To improve this, Facebook could create a way to make it easier for older adults to meet other adults near them who have the same interests and start working towards intervening with their loneliness. Aarts, Peek, and Wouter (2014) explain how social media can have a significant effect on older adults but it does not singlehandedly make up for real every day connections. Facebook should be a way older adults stay connected with their families but not the only source of communication they have.

eHarmony

            Older adults are portrayed as asexual beings who do not desire sexual lives or relationships-especially after a divorce or a death. This stereotype is detrimental to older adults perception of themselves and their willingness to reach out to potential partners. eHarmony would be a great source for older adults to explore the possibility of creating a new romantic relationship from the comfort of their homes. eHarmony has a more extensive questionnaire for its users meaning, older adults can be more critical about what exactly it is they are looking for in a partner, what they are interested in and, what their hobbies are. Creating an online dating profile could help older adults have a larger pool of potential partners when they do not have the ability or means to meet other older adults. These limitations include older adults who do not have transportation, who are bed ridden, or in a wheelchair. eHarmony makes it more accessible for older adults to find potential partners.  Through online dating, older adults have the chance to portray their qualities and interests to other older adults looking for romantic partners. According to Clarke, Mortenson, and Clarke (2016), by creating online dating profiles, older adults are given the chance to reflect on their values, how happy they are with their lives and if they consider their transition into older adulthood successful. Clarke, Mortenson, and Wada (2016) did this through online dating profiles and how older adults portrayed themselves. Based on their socio-demographic characteristics, older adults can see how different characteristics affected both their self-perception and how it influenced their dating life. Clarke, Mortenson, and Clarke (2016) believed that dating was a critical piece of having a successful older adulthood.

Similar to Facebook, eHarmony could make their website more “older adult friendly,” by making it easier to navigate, adding the ability to navigate the website through voice control, being able to have information read to them through the website, and creating criteria specific to older adulthood. They should have set questions for older adults based on their memory type and cognitive functioning. For example, being aware that some older adults might have memory problems such as metamemory and being unaware of their self-efficacy and if they are capable of dating again. Another example could be having challenges with long-term memory and not being able to recall episodic events which could influence how they answer questionnaires. Therefore, being cautious over the types of questions asked is important to prevent an older adult from feeling incompetent based on questions that are unsuitable for them.

Older adults are turning to online services for social interactions, especially those who do cannot do so in person. Social media needs to begin tailoring their websites towards all users no matter what their age is and stop overlooking older adults and their new use of social media.

 

 

References

Aarts, S., S.T., M. P., & Wouters, E. M. (2014). The relation between social network site usage and lonlieness and mental health in community-dwelling older adults. Geriatric Psychiatry, 943-950.

Burzynska, A. (Performer). (2017). Lecture 6: Physical aging: joints, vision, hearing & balance. Colorado State University.

Wada, M., Mortenson, W. B., & Clarke, L. H. (2016). Older Adults’ Online Dating Profiles and Successful Aging. Canadian Journal on Aging , 1-5.

 

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