In a new publication, Dr Anja Leist from the University's
Research Unit INSIDE, concludes that possibilities for a systematic application
in clinical practice seem promising.
With the rise of user-friendly devices such as tablets and
other web-enabled devices, older adults now engage in social media, such as
online social networks, discussion boards, and online forums, more frequently.
The evidence for the large potential of social media use in clinical practise
had not been systematically investigated until now.
The review of existing studies by Dr Leist, associated with
the Technology and Ageing Working Group of Professor Dieter Ferring, explores
the manifold intervention possibilities, such as designing web sites to provide
information on hip fracture prevention where older adults can also discuss
Besides the potential for clinical practise and other
positive consequences in everyday use of social media, the researchers also
addressed the possible negative consequences of social media use.
With the successful use of a computer or web-enabled device,
older adults report enhanced feelings of control and self-efficacy, but social
media provides even more benefits for older adults.
"For me, it was interesting to learn that there is
evidence for a large potential of social media in clinical practice. Older
adults can use social media to access health-related information and engage in
patient-to-patient or patient-doctor conversations. There are many online
forums where people in difficult life situations, such as informal caregivers
of a spouse with dementia or individuals with depression, can exchange thoughts
as well as receive and provide social support. Other positive consequences are
that lonely older adults can overcome loneliness through contact to family and
friends and other users with similar interests," says Dr Leist.
However the negative consequences of social media use for
older adults have yet to be investigated and literature from related fields
show the potential for possible pitfalls. Some examples are access to harmful
information and misuse of personal data.
Other negative effects have been shown to be unfavourable
social comparisons due to overly positive self-representations of others
displayed in online social networks.
Dr. Leist raised the point of the lack of clarity on
posthumous management of online web content, i.e. when the user has passed
away. Another crucial unresolved issue is the data handling when a user
develops an illness which leads to compromised decision-making ability such as
dementia. With no possibility to modify online content, unless the user has
agreed beforehand with full decision-making ability, inappropriate behaviour or
displayed web content could pose a danger to others, but also impend the
dignity of the user.