Half of U.S. Use Social Networks, Older Population Catching Up

Half of U.S. Use Social Networks, Older Population Catching Up

Half of all U.S. adults reported using social networking sites in a recent survey, illustrating the growing adoption of new technology in older populations.

The Pew Research Center’s survey, released last Friday, revealed the surging number of Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace users is up from just five percent six years ago.

Not surprisingly, the sites are more popular among younger populations. Respondents in the 18-29 age bracket said they use social networking sites, compared to about half of those aged 50-64. The young are also twice as likely to use social sites every day, and women in the younger age range nabbed the “power user” designation, with nearly 90 percent them using social media, almost 70 percent daily.

However, while the younger group’s numbers continue to increase steadily, it is the gains made by older populations that the researchers noted.

“The graying of social networking sites continues, but the oldest users are still far less likely to be making regular use of these tools,” said Mary Madden, Senior Research Specialist and co-author of the report. “While seniors are testing the waters, many baby boomers are beginning to make a trip to the social media pool part of their daily routine.”

The increasing familiarity of social media by baby boomers and senior populations may indicate a variety of senior service technology initiatives are paying off and may likely continue.

For example, earlier this year, 100 seniors enrolled in a program by the Central Oregon Council on Aging, taught by teenagers from a nearby high school, and a similar initiative, called “Senior Connects” in Carmel, Ind., boasts between 400 and 600 participants. Also, in New York, Pace University delivers a program that sends students to retirement homes to show seniors how to use email, online banking, Wii and video chat, among others.

In addition, electronics makers are getting onboard, making products for older users, who are often called “silver surfers.”

Earlier this month, Intel and GE, as part of a joint venture, announced a proprietary tablet platform for the elderly, recognizing their increasing value as mobile technology consumers.

The simple tablet device, featuring an embedded webcam, is designed to help increase well-being and social interaction among seniors, as well as allow care providers easy ways to monitor patients.

The software includes wellness surveys, brain fitness games, community calendar events, medication reminders and social networking and targets seniors living in group housing facilities, as well as elderly people living at home with private care.

In addition, the Just5 “grandma-friendly” phone debuted this spring, featuring five features that target older users: big buttons, easy operation, amplified sound, long-lasting battery and a personal emergency response system. When people press the SOS button, it sets off a loud alarm and texts “help me” to five contacts.

While illustrating the gains social media has made with seniors, Pew’s study found the Internet is still more commonly used everyday for e-mail and search. Of those polled, two-thirds said they went online every day to check e-mail and perform searches, while around 40 percent used the Internet for social networking.

But with all populations, especially baby boomers and seniors getting up to speed on new technology, those numbers may likely continue to rise, with more services, apps and devices geared especially towards this rising demographic.

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