Should you consider prescribing Facebook to older patients?

A graduate student from the University of Arizona, Janelle Wohltmann, is studying whether Facebook use can improve older adult cognitive performance and make them feel more socially connected.

Her preliminary findings show that after using Facebook, older adults performed about 25 percent better on tasks designed to measure their ability to continuously monitor and to quickly add or delete the contents of their working memory, also known as “updating”.

The interesting thing about the study is one of the comparison group did perform tasks testing their cognitive functions.  The comparison group was taught to use an online diary site — but it did not have a social function. Another group did not use Facebook or use the online diary.

A second group of 14 non-Facebook using seniors instead was taught to use an online diary site, Penzu.com, in which entries are kept private, with no social sharing component. They were asked to make at least one entry a day, of no more than three to five sentences to emulate the shortness of messages that Facebook users typically post.

The study’s third group of 14 was told they were on a “wait-list” for Facebook training, which they never actually completed.

The online diary group and the null hypothesis group saw no significant changes in cognitive function. The average age of the participants was 79.

I would love to see a study that added another social media tool — twitter — to the mix.

Suggesting Facebook to older patients

For older adult patients who are concerned about their cognitive function declining, you can certainly consider suggesting Facebook and other social media sites as a way to help them stay more engaged.  However, even as Wohltmann explains, there are inherent dangers to Facebook and social media as well, mainly being privacy:

“It’s also important to understand and know about some of the aspects of Facebook that people have concerns about, like how to keep your profile secure,” she said. “So I wouldn’t suggest to anyone to get out and get Granny online right away, unless you or somebody else can provide the proper education and support to that person, so that they can use it in a safe way.”

Having someone teach an older patient on how to appropriately use Facebook would be essential before suggesting it to them — possibly having a family member help with this.  Maybe Facebook should consider making a teaching module for the older adult population? Just a thought.

We encourage our readers to read the University of Arizona link we provided to read more about Janelle Wohltmann’s study.

Source: University of Arizona News

Author:

Iltifat Husain, MD

Founder, Editor-in-Chief of iMedicalApps.com. Emergency Medicine Faculty and Director of Mobile App curriculum at Wake Forest School of Medicine.

Follow Me

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *