How Online Communities Can Connect Seniors

How Online Communities Can Connect Seniors

Have you ever felt alone but weren’t sure how to reach out to others? Or maybe you’ve tried to reach out but have been unsuccessful making real connections. Making friends as an adult is hard and it seems to get harder and harder the older we get. The good news is that there is a solution to finding community and feeling less alone, and it’s online.


Many studies have reported that seniors struggle with loneliness and social isolation. In fact, more than one-third of adults aged 45 and older report feeling lonely, and almost one-quarter of those aged 65 and older complain of social isolation, according to the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine.


Loneliness and social isolation sometimes go hand-in-hand. A person who is socially isolated is dealing with a lack of social connection – they have little or no support and no one to reach out to. And though it makes sense that those who are socially isolated can feel quite lonely, the feeling of loneliness can strike anyone, even if they are surrounded by people.


Both loneliness and social isolation are considered to be serious health risks. The CDC tells us that both issues can lead to a variety of problems, including dementia, heart disease, depression, anxiety, and even an increased risk of premature death[1].


Many elderly adults live alone. Some have mobility issues or chronic conditions that make it difficult for them to get around. They might have lost loved ones, including spouses, siblings, and friends. And they might simply prefer solitude.


For those who deal with any of these issues, online communities are a great way to combat social isolation and reach out to those who might be in similar situations or share similar hobbies and interests.


The Boom in Online Communities


Social media and online communities exploded in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic. When people couldn’t get out and socialize the way they used to, online communication filled the gap. In fact, participation in online communities grew by a whopping 81% during the early days of the pandemic, according to a report from Peer Board.


Today, online communities are abundant across the internet. No matter your situation or interests, there is an online community for it. They give you the opportunity to talk with far-flung friends and family, make the acquaintance of interesting strangers, and allow you to speak your mind or provide opinions for others who might be looking for advice.


You can choose how much you want to participate; you can quietly lurk around a message board to read what others have to say or you can become a pillar of the online community you choose through kindness, attention, and openness. Many seniors miss that feeling of “being needed” by someone, especially if they have lost a spouse or other close family member or friend in recent years.


Other Benefits of Online Communities


The good uses of online communities go much further than easing loneliness and isolation – though those are two very important functions these communities can serve. Online communities also offer access to a plethora of information on anything and everything that interests you, allowing you to dig deep into a subject and learn as much as you can. This can be helpful for seniors who may have concerns about health and healthcare but don’t want to ask their doctor a long list of questions.


There are abundant learning opportunities and you can obtain new skills, such as computer coding or cooking. You might choose to write a novel or poetry on a site dedicated to the creative arts. You can even create music and share it with others.


Emotional support and advice are a great bonus in online communities. Those who are dealing with tough life events, such as a scary health diagnosis, can reach out to others who have going through the same thing. This encourages people to open up and can give them reassurance, and for the person giving the advice, their confidence can quickly build and they can find a sense of purpose.


How to Find an Online Community for Seniors


Finding your online space might be easier than you think. Check out these places on the internet:


·        Social media platforms. Popular platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have organic communities that have blossomed over the years. These communities focus on everything from knitting to politics to medical alert devices to everything in between. There are some communities open to everyone while others are open only to those of a certain age, like seniors. Whatever your hobby or passion, you can find it on social media. But do keep in mind that cyberbullying isn’t always held in check on social media, so other forms of connecting might be nicer.

·        Online forums. These are message boards that are dedicated to a variety of topics of interest. You might find forums on healthcare topics, classic cars, gardening, travel, raising the grandkids, and so much more. These forums allow you to speak your mind or ask a question in a post, where others then respond to you. Like social media groups, these forums might be closed to only those of a certain age or in some cases, those who have a certain illness. For instance, there are online forums specifically for those with dementia (or their family caregivers) or those who are undergoing cancer treatment.

·        Social networks exclusively for seniors. There are whole online forums dedicated to those in their golden years. SeniorChatters for friendship or SeniorMatch for dating are two good examples. You can connect with those your own age and touch on a variety of topics. In networks like these, there are usually sub-forums dedicated to different topics.

·        Chat rooms. Many online forums have a section that includes chat rooms. These rooms allow you to talk with your peers in real time about anything that comes to mind. Chat rooms often move quickly and it can be tough to keep track of all the individuals in the room if you have a large group; but if you stick with it, soon you’ll settle in. You can also form your own chat rooms that allow you to talk with others one-on-one. Just be careful never to give any sensitive information out publicly, as it is important to enjoy the internet safely.

·        Online courses. At first blush, online courses might not seem like a good way to network with others, but you might be surprised. Many online courses offer message boards and chat rooms that allow students and professors to talk about the material. From recommending books on the subject to diving deeper into certain concepts, you have a built-in conversation starter that can lead to deep discussion. As an added bonus, you’re learning new skills and information!

·        Virtual events. When COVID-19 hit, everyone had to get creative. Though virtual events were already pretty popular, they surged in interest during the pandemic. Virtual events can include trivia nights, book clubs, fitness classes, yoga sessions, group therapy, and so much more. You can even have “watch parties” where you join with others in a virtual room to watch a movie or television show.

·        Gaming forums. If you’re into any sort of games – from Words with Friends to World of Warcraft – you can find a forum that allows you to play the game and talk with others as you do. It’s a great way to connect while you engage in something that tests your brainpower.


Staying Safe While Online


Just as you take precautions with your day-to-day life, from locking your doors to using a personal emergency response system, you should take proactive steps to stay safe online as well. Here’s how.


·        Don’t reveal too much personal information. Never share your full name, address, phone number, or any private information online. Though most of the people you will encounter online are people looking for a place to connect, there are also some unsavory characters out there who will try to get into your good graces in order to get something from you or steal from you, especially in a financial sense.

·        Keep passwords strong. Never use the same password across all your accounts, and make sure that whatever password you use for social media is different from the passwords you use for other areas of the web. Never give your password to anyone – there is no reason why anyone would need it. If they ask for it, they are probably up to no good.

·        Never click unknown links. If you receive a link from someone you trust, that’s fine, but if you receive a link through a chat or on a message board, it is better to be safe than sorry.

·        Report inappropriate behavior. Not everyone online is going to be pleasant to encounter. If you experience cyberbullying or harassment, or see those things happening to someone else, report it to the owners of the forum or any other appropriate channels. If someone makes you feel uncomfortable, block them. There will be guidelines on the site you choose that tell you how to do this.

·        Ask for help. If you’re not sure how to use a forum, chat room, or social media site, ask for help! Your friends, grandchildren, or children may have grown up with social media as a part of their everyday lives. Request help if there are things you don’t understand.


If You Choose to Take a Friendship Offline


Many friendships can develop through online communities, forums, and chat rooms. And the day might come when you choose to take those friendships out of the virtual world and into the physical one. Before making that choice, make certain you know the person very well. Always meet in a public place and do not give your address to a stranger.


And no matter where you meet, wearing a button alarm can help ensure your safety. If anything feels wrong or something seems fishy, press the panic button to get a helpful professional on the line right away. Remember, medical alert technology is for much more than falls and accidents in the home! Let Alert1 give you peace of mind as you venture into new online communities. Be safe and stay well!