If you’re like most consumers today, you’re spending many hours a day online, surfing the Internet for information, sending and receiving e-mails, watching videos, exchanging photos, communicating on social networks, playing games, and shopping online. However, within the older adult community, age 65+, only a little over a third have adopted broadband and are able to go online at home.
With much of our information, entertainment, commerce, and even government services now on the Internet, our seniors have rapidly become the most digitally divided segment of our society – and with the great benefits the Internet has to offer our aging community, they’re missing out on an opportunity to improve their lives at a most critical point.
What does going online do to help improve the lives of our older adults? The Internet helps make it possible to age in place; remain where you live and bring important health and support services right into your own home. Second, it reduces isolation, providing an opportunity to connect with family and friends regardless of geographical distances.
Going online also offers the convenience and financial savings of online shopping. With most government services now online, older adults can receive important government benefits and services more easily and promptly. Finally, let’s not forget the entertainment value of the Internet: playing bridge or scrabble, social networking, watching a video, video chatting with children and grandchildren, and exchanging photos are among just some of the enjoyable activities online.
With so many benefits the Internet has to offer, it’s unfortunate more of our older adults aren’t online. There are some challenges to getting older adults online that need to be addressed, with perhaps the two most important being relevance to everyday life and unfamiliarity with the technology. The challenges of adapting to technology later in life are substantial. However, there are numerous training programs in the communities around the country specifically geared toward older individuals. The programs - at community centers, libraries, senior centers, religious institutions, and non-profit organizations - are assisting older adults with the tips and tools they need to be safe and responsible users of the Internet (that’s right -- online safety and privacy are issues for older adults, too!). Also, the advances in technology have led to great new devices, such as the tablet, that are more intuitive to use, requiring little or no training to get online.
As far as demonstrating the relevance of going online, there’s not one, most important value. For some older individuals it could be video chatting with a grandchild who lives across the country. With another, it could be the importance of social networking and connecting with others to help reduce the isolation and loss that occurs as one gets older. For someone else, it could be the opportunities of telemedicine and other important health support systems in the home.
Project GOAL is working to demonstrate how older adults are able to enrich their lives by getting online. While demonstrating the value, we are also working on addressing the challenges. Check our website www.theprojectgoal.org for our most recent publication that helps inform older adults about how they can stay safe and protect their privacy online.
The Internet offers a world of opportunity for older adults and it’s important that more within this community adopt broadband and get online.
Debra Berlyn serves as the Executive Director of The Project to Get Older Adults onLine (GOAL), and she is also the President of Consumer Policy Solutions. Ms. Berlyn is a seasoned veteran of telecommunications and consumer policy issues and an advocate for consumers of technology services. She represented AARP on the digital television transition and has worked closely with national aging organizations on several Internet issues, including online safety and privacy concerns.