Research suggests that staying connected can extend your life

You don’t text. You don’t Skype. You don’t do Facebook. You don’t tweet on Twitter.

And you are proud of the fact, though relatives and friends urge you to connect with them through social media and other modern technology.

Enough already with the excuses. Here are some reasons to reconsider.

It keeps you connected

Loneliness harms body, mind and soul.

The Los Angeles Times recently reported on a study of 6,500 older and socially isolated men and women, tracked by researchers for seven years. They died earlier than peers who had regular social contact with others.

“The advantages to doing all of these things? It will prevent you from being lonely,” said Jane McCarville, an instructor in the Community Colleges of Spokane’s ACT 2 programs.

“You are not only connecting with children and grandchildren but connecting with high school friends, old neighbors, maybe military people (you) were together with in service, all kinds of people,” McCarville said. “It beats isolation.”

Grown children often live away from their aging parents, cutting down on the personal time grandchildren spend with grandparents.

If you video chat, your grandchildren will hear your voices and see your faces on a regular basis, McCarville pointed out.

“So when we physically go to visit them, we are not a stranger, and it doesn’t take as long to warm up, because we have the relationships established,” she said.

Also, modern technology is featured in films, books and on television. Understanding new technology keeps you connected to popular culture, and not just the shallow stuff.

For instance, this week on the MSNBC program “Morning Joe,” host Mika Brzezinski announced that her father, former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, now has a Twitter account. He’s 85.

It’s good for your brain

Learning new skills as you age tones the brain. When you feel frustration while learning your new cellphone or adapting to a new computer, your brain ramps up dopamine, a feel-good brain chemical.

Recently, researchers at University of California, San Francisco, asked study participants 65 and older to engage in mental stimulation an hour a day three days a week for three months. Some did brain-training computer games while control subjects passively watched DVDs.

The computer gamers showed improvements in memory and thinking skills, according to HealthDay news service.

You will learn best from your peers

Older people hoping to learn technology often ask for help from their grown children or their grandchildren or the 20-something techs at the computer stores or at work.

Sometimes this is successful. But not often.

“You go to children and grandchildren for assistance and they will say ‘Let me show you how to do this.’ And then they do it for you,” McCarville said.

ACT 2, the lifelong learning branch of the Community Colleges of Spokane, offers about 40 classes on everyday technology, including computer basics, email basics, Internet basics, Twitter, Craigslist and Facebook.

The message in the classes?

“You can do it,” McCarville said. “We will show you how. And we’re not going to do it for you.”

What’s a Skype?

Skyping has become a catch-all term for chatting with others, and seeing them at the same time, through computers, cellphones or iPad-like devices, though Apple calls its video-chatting application “FaceTime.”

If you’ve never done a video chat, perhaps you remember the 1964 World’s Fair in New York where AT&T introduced the “Picturephone.”

The idea that you’d see someone as you talked with them on the phone captured the imagination, and in the 1968 classic “2001: A Space Odyssey” space travelers stay in touch with people on Earth through “video phones.”

It took nearly 40 years for reality to catch up with science fiction – and AT&T’s visionaries. The company that pioneered the modern version of video phones released its technology as “Skype” in 2003. Microsoft bought it in 2011.

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To find information about upcoming Community Colleges of Spokane ACT 2 technology courses, Google “ACT 2 Spokane IEL” and then click on the “Master Your Technology” tab. Or call (509) 279-6027.

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