I love my iPad

I love my iPad. 

I LOVE it. For five years it’s been my nightly companion, travel survival tool, morning newspaper, and email enabler. It’s how I do my Facebookkeeping. Maybe you are addicted to your general-purpose social media machine, too. 

And we social beings use social media to share and engage. We’re sharing Selfies. Instagrams. Tweets. Links. Comments about links. Videos. Inspirational images. Family photos. Photo bombs. And on and on. 

In this networked world of “likes,” your iPad or smartphone is an unprecedented tool for learning, keeping in touch, and testing one’s mettle. And it may also be good for your head. 

Use of social media linked to reduction in brain decline

Brain Fitness Rocks

Last year, scientists found that the ability of older adults to engage, plan, and execute digital actions such as web browsing and email can improve memory. Yes, using Facebook to engage with the world may have cognitive benefits for older adults.

In another recent study, the two-year Ages 2.0 project funded by the European Union, researchers found that social media training improved cognitive capacity and increased one’s sense of self-competence. 

You can download a PDF of the final Ages 2.0 project report: Activating and Guiding the Engagement of Seniors Through Social Media

Can social media websites boost cognitive function?

Here’s more evidence to convince older adults to try using Facebook. 

In 2013, a preliminary research study from University of Arizona suggested that adults over age 65 who learn how to use Facebook may experience a boost in cognitive functioning.

In the study, people from ages 68 – 91 were put into three groups: 14 people learned to use Facebook. Another 14 seniors learned to use an online diary site. A third group of 14 received no Internet training. Before the trainings, the seniors’ cognitive abilities were tested, and their level of loneliness and access to social support were evaluated. 

In the follow-up exam, seniors who used Facebook performed about 25% better on the cognitive tests. The people in the other groups saw no improvement, even if they faithfully wrote in their website diaries. Which might imply, you can’t just start up your computer and type in your thoughts or read online — you need to engage in an array of stimulating social interactions— like what people do when they use Facebook — to gain brain benefits. 

“The Facebook interface is actually complex,” said Janelle Wohltmann, the UA psych grad student who conducted the study. Wohltmann suspects that the way we use Facebook, compared to an online diary, was largely responsible for Facebook users’ improved performance. 

“When you create [an online] diary entry, that’s all you see, versus if you’re on Facebook, several people are posting new things, so new information is constantly getting posted.” 

She added that the constant flow of new information forces the brain to prioritize what to pay attention to. And that’s good for the grey matter. 

More analysis is needed to determine:
 — whether using Facebook can make participants feel less lonely or more socially connected; and 
 — whether, or by how much, social engagement, Facebook-style, contributes to cognitive performance.

Use a laptop, boost your brain!

In 2012, Mayo Clinic Research reported a synergistic interaction between computer activities and moderate exercise in “protecting” the brain function of people age 70 and up. 

Researchers studies 926 people ages 70 to 93, all in Minnesota, who completed questionnaires on physical exercise and computer use within one year. 

Of the study participants who did not exercise AND did not use a computer, 20.1% were cognitively normal and 37.6% showed signs of mild cognitive impairment. Of the participants who both exercised and used a computer, 36% were cognitively normal and 18.3% showed signs of MCI. Those who exercised AND used a computer decreased their risk of MCI by 50%. 

I’m excited about seeing the outcome of new studies. I’ll try to keep you posted on findings. 

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