Your grandma is on Facebook. She's always posting cat videos and commenting on your photos. It's cute (and maybe a little embarrassing) and it makes you smile because you know she's staying connected. The more comfortable seniors get with social media and technology, the more opportunities there are to keep seniors involved in their communities. Research has shown that social engagement tools for mental and emotional health are just as important as physical health: this study shows that seniors engaged with social technology are happier, have better self-rated health and fewer chronic illnesses. Being able to FaceTime with a grandparent who cannot make it to a wedding or holiday gathering is incredibly fulfilling and life giving for the entire family. Social engagement tools can also help financially; seniors can rent out bedrooms with AirBnB and gain extra income with little effort or overhead costs. Uber drivers are increasing in age as seniors become more comfortable with technology, with more Uber drivers now being over 50 years old than under 30.
With the help of technology, seniors are able connect with community programs to get escorted, wheelchair-accessible transportation to medical appointments, social outings and shopping trips. Many of these programs are volunteer-run, reducing the cost of each ride and making trips more affordable than a taxi. And it definitely is more than a taxi service; seniors transportation programs will often provide an escort physically to and from the appointment, without a meter running outside. Having access to safe and reliable transportation reduces medical appointment no-shows and keeps seniors engaged in their communities.
Empowering seniors to maintain their independence through technology is a practice we should continue to develop. Does your organization offer an Adult Day Program, Group Dining or Friendly Visiting service? Make suggestions to your seniors about using social engagement tools to increase their connectivity to friends and family. Offer an hour introductory course to FaceTime, Uber or AirBnB to get them started. Finding more ways to improve seniors' independence will improve their mental health and will likely reduce the need for doctor and hospital visits.