In their lifetimes, today’s seniors have witnessed some of the most incredible technological advancements in history; space shuttles, televisions, computers, the Internet, cell phones and more. Even so, the rapidly advancing technology scene of the past few years can seem intimidating and cause many seniors to shy away from using the latest devices and tools – specifically computers and the internet. In 2012, the Pew Research Center found that 41 percent of seniors do not go online at all.
There are multiple reasons seniors want or have to stay out of the loop when it comes to the internet. Two out of every five seniors say they have some sort of physical challenge or disability that makes reading more challenging, which makes reading a small screen even more difficult. Some seniors have skeptical attitudes about the Internet – 35 percent of older non-users do not believe they are missing out on important information. Another reason seniors are not online is because they believe they will have difficulties learning to use the internet. 77 percent said they would need someone to help them through the process.
Although a large amount of seniors are still offline, Pew Research Center also found that 59 percent of seniors do go online, which was a 6 percent increase from 2011. Even though seniors are not as likely to go online as the rest of the population, once they decide to use the internet, the majority adopt it into their everyday lives. 47 percent of seniors have a high-speed broadband connection at home, and 71 percent go online every day or almost every day.
The majority of seniors that are online are in their early 70s or younger. Among 75 to 79 year olds, internet usage drops to 47 percent. Internet usage in seniors tends to mirror that of the general population. Those seniors with a higher income and with a college degree are much more likely to go online than those with a lower income and no college degree. Younger seniors (65 to 69) are also more likely to use social networking sites compared to those over 80.
Watch the trailer for “Cyber-Seniors,” a documentary directed by Saffron Cassaday about seniors and technology.
One of the greatest advantages of technology is that it gives one the ability to connect with people from anywhere in the world. This can be especially helpful for seniors who live alone and want to stay connected with their family and friends. Seeing a loved one’s face on a video call and sharing photos through social media can help prevent isolation and depression – two common problems among aging seniors. Of those older adults who use social media sites, 81 percent say they socialize with others on a daily or near-daily basis. In comparison, 63 percent of those not online say they socialize on a daily basis.
Smartphones and tablets can also provide helpful healthcare information for seniors. With many seniors taking multiple medications daily, new apps that send reminders and refill alerts can help seniors manage their medications. Other apps and health information tracking systems allow seniors and their family members to keep track of medical records and physician contacts. The informational benefits of the internet are not lost on seniors – 94 percent agree that the internet makes it easier to find information today than in the past.
Studies show that seniors are more likely to adopt new technology into their lives if a family member offers to help them shop for the device and learn to use it. Of the seniors who go online but do not use social networking sites such as Facebook, 56 percent said they would need assistance if they wanted to use these sites to connect with friends or family members. Seniors can also take advantage of classes offered specifically to their age group that teach them the ins-and-outs of smartphones, tablets or computers. These classes are usually offered locally at libraries, senior centers and colleges.
According to research by Michigan State University, tablets are a leading component to helping seniors cross the digital divide. They are easier for seniors to hold and view than a smaller smartphone. Shelia Cotten, an MSU professor of media and information, also said that many seniors have trouble using computers that require a mouse.
“The dexterity required to control a mouse is really hard for some older adults,” Cotten said. “A certain level of muscle control is needed. And some older adults have shaking issues, in addition to muscle-control issues in their hands and arms.”
Currently, nearly 27 percent of seniors own a tablet, an e-reader, or both. Cotten also contributed the rising popularity of tablets among seniors to the simplicity of use, which is especially helpful for those without computer experience.
“For the most part they are pretty easy to operate,” she said. “You don’t have to click on 12 different things to do what you want to do. It helps to ease their tech anxiety.”
Written by Amada contributor Taylor French.