Using social media can reduce the negative health effects of curtailed social contact that comes as a consequence of pain, according to a new study.

The findings are significant among an aging society where social isolation and loneliness are key determinants of well-being, says lead author Shannon Ang, a doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan’s sociology department and Institute for Social Research.

“Our results may be possibly extended to other forms of conditions (e.g., chronic illnesses, functional limitations) that, like pain, also restrict physical activity outside of the home,”

Ang says.

Social Media Benefits

Ang, along with Tuo-Yu Chen of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, used data from a nationally representative survey involving more than 3,400 Medicare beneficiaries aged 65 and older in 2011. The respondents were asked about depression, pain, and their social participation.

The data, however, does not distinguish between the types of social media that older adults use — although 17 percent of them had used a social networking site in the last month. To capture if purported benefits were from social media and not just from general internet use, the researchers adjusted their analysis for various online uses such as paying bills or shopping for groceries, Ang says.

The findings showed that older adults who experienced pain were less likely to participate in social activities that require face-to-face interactions, which offers mental benefits.

Still, social media may preserve cognitive function and psychological well-being in this population, the researchers say.

“This is critical because the onset of pain can often lead to a downward spiral of social isolation and depression, resulting in adverse outcomes for the health of older adults,”

Ang says.

Shannon Ang, Tuo-Yu Chen Going online to stay connected: Online social participation buffers the relationship between pain and depression The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, , gby109,

Image: Chris Nurse, Wellcome Images

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