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Dec 12, 2014 11:56 AM EST

Training Elderly in Social Media May Improve Well-being and Combat Isolation

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Training older people how to use social media improves cognitive capacity, increases a sense of self-competence and could have a beneficial overall impact on mental health and well-being, according to a recent study.

Researchers from the University of Exeter in the UK found that gave a group of vulnerable older adults a specially-designed computer, broadband connection and training in how to use them. They found that those who received training became more positive about computers over time, with the participants particularly enjoying connecting with friends and relatives via Skype and email.

"Having this training changes people's lives and opens up their worlds, invigorates their minds and for lots of us gives us a completely different way of recognizing our worth as we age," researcher Margaret Keohone said in a statement. "I was just slipping away into a slower way of life."

The ageing population is one of the major challenges facing society. It is expected that between 2010 and 2060, the number of people aged 65 and over across Europe will grow from 17.4 to 29.5 percent of the total population. The project, called Ages 2.0, aimed to assess the extent to which the internet and social media offer a tool for promoting active ageing and addressing the social isolation that is too often a feature of older age.

Participants in the study were vulnerable older adults between the ages of 60 and 95 years of age who were receiving support from Somerset Care Ltd. The 76 volunteers were drawn both from those receiving care in the community and those living in any of the not-for-profit organization's 31 residential care homes.

Half the participants were randomly assigned to receive training and the other half to a control group who received care as usual. The training involved the installation of an 'Easy PC package' consisting of a touch screen computer and keyboard, and a broadband internet connection. They were able to keep the computer for 12 months, including a three-month training period.

Researchers hope their findings will help inform future policy on digital inclusion and the delivery of tele-health and tele-care strategies.

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