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"Facebook Light" For Elderly, Dementia Patients in Works


Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg probably never had this in mind when he came up with the phenomenally popular social network, but researchers are developing a type of “Facebook Light” for the elderly and people who have dementia. This approach will provide these individuals with a new way to maintain social contact and a better quality of life.

Social contact is critical for mental well-being

For many people, staying in touch with friends, colleagues, and relatives via cell phone, email, and Facebook along with other social media is a normal way of life. But for the elderly and individuals who have dementia—people for whom social contact and interaction is critical for mental and emotional well-being—these means of communication, particularly social media, can be too complicated to navigate.

Tone Oderud, a research scientist at SINTEF (the largest independent research organization in Scandinavia), asked “Why should elderly people be excluded from the social media, which are the communication platform of the future?” and then set out to help change it. She and her research team are developing a web-based communications application that will be easy enough for the elderly and even people with dementia to use.

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The researchers believe social media like Facebook can be an effective tool to help improve the quality of life not only for the elderly and people with dementia, but for their caregivers as well. Right now, however, “the user interface is too advanced for very many people,” noted Oderud.

So far, Oderud and her group have conducted some practical testing, including “a ‘digital diary’ and a ‘scrapbook’ containing personal photos, newspaper cuttings and information found online,” Oderud explained. These experiments showed that constant, simple contact between relatives and community care services improved communication and everyone’s security, and also reduced the time caregivers needed to follow up with their relatives.

For now, “Facebook Light” hasn’t hit cyberspace. Oderud and her team are currently testing a prototype in the city of Drammen in southern Norway. She noted that “the tests have shown us that there is great potential for all in the fields of caregiving and digital communication.”