Rachel McAlpine, a well-known New Zealand author and poet, and myself, are both bloggers and both would admit to being “older”. Rachel had been wondering about older bloggers, a community which she says is “pretty well hidden from the rest of the world”. Most of the research on the “blogosphere” is related to business or professional blogs and has a commercial motive. But, could personal blogging be a valuable tool to provide mental, emotional, and social stimulation for older people, and, for some, a way to reduce social isolation?
This was the rationale for the Older Bloggers’ survey, launched by Rachel, with help from me. We used Survey Monkey and promoted it mainly through Rachel’s blog “Write into Life” (she has hundreds of followers and I have hardly any). By the time it was closed, in late June, there were 120 responses from a wide geographical range – half from the USA, followed by the UK, with New Zealand third; 11 countries in all.
“Older” was self-defined and 16% of the respondents were under 55 years. Nearly three-quarters were in the 55 to 74 age group and 11% 75 or older (only one 85 plus). Does this represent the “baby-boom” generation? Or perhaps the first cohort to reach middle-age with experience of communication via computers and the internet?
The questionnaire asked about technicalities – time spent blogging or following others, difficulties with publication, etc. These results will be useful for education and service provision. But more relevant for us is why people blog and what they feel are the benefits.
Why do you blog?
Respondents were asked to choose up to three reasons from a long list. Interestingly, the most frequently responses were personal – “to express my creativity”; “I just enjoy it.” Comments along these lines included:
Mostly I just feel I need to get my thoughts into words, and if someone likes what I write, that’s a bonus.
It allows me a reason to dig deep with research on something I’m interested in.
I started out writing a journal of our travels because I didn’t want to forget a special part of our retirement.
Blogging is about keeping ME inspired. It provides the impetus to stay engaged, keep setting goals, keeps feeding my curiosity. I didn’t want my days to drift aimlessly into one another.
Some people mentioned psychological benefits from blogging:
Blogging keeps one’s mind active in old age, hopefully delaying age-related dementia.
Good therapy to write about my life.
I live alone, but I’m not lonely
Respondents wanted to share their knowledge and passions; their stories; to entertain or to inspire others. Some to teach:
I hear so many complain about helping their parents with their phones/tablets. I wanted to create a “safe” place to share my love of mobile devices. Where anyone felt they could learn and not have to be made to feel dumb by their kids or grandchildren.
I started to share my experience of depression, in the hope that it would help others, and mental health is still a core topic for me.
I originally started writing from a more traditional view of ‘living sustainably’ and noticed how tricky I found it to change my habits and thought it might be helpful to share this so that others can see that it is not easy but we should try anyway, and that every change makes a difference.
To connect with other (like-minded) people was also an important reason, often starting with family or friends.
Historically I began to keep in touch with friends and family. Blogging has brought far more friends and taken me down byways I would never otherwise have travelled.
Sharing my letters to my mother with my family and a regular letter to an old friend who lives far away. I have made new friends this way
Started out as a diary for myself, friends and family. Became far more enjoyable when I started to treat it as a social network.
The theme of meeting new people through blogging was very common. Often these became friends and sometimes the respondents met them in person.
A further question asked “What feelings do you get from the experience of publishing, reading, and commenting on blogs?” Respondents were asked to respond using a five-point scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree.
The vast majority agreed on the personal benefits of blogging – giving satisfaction and happiness, and over half agreed that it helped them to feel that they were not alone – apparently lessening feelings of loneliness and social isolation.
This was also a common “side benefit” of blogging – respondents were asked whether they agreed with statements about what these effects might be.
Concluding comments were very positive about the benefits of blogging:
It makes me think about how happy I am and what I might change.
Blogging improves “mindfulness”/self-awareness.
Blogging helps me meet new people worlds apart. Blogging helps me continue to seek out new ideas and remain a life-long learner.
Of course, people who responded to the Older Bloggers’ survey were actively engaged in blogging, so they were likely to be positive. But I think we learned enough to assert that blogging has the potential to benefit older people and should be encouraged.
 Blog as a noun – a regularly updated website or web page, typically one run by an individual or small group, that is written in an informal or conversational style.
As a verb – to add new material to or regularly update a blog.