Crossing the Senior Digital Divide
Imagine what your life would be like if you couldn’t use Google Maps to find your next appointment, instantly check the weather and be warned of impending storms, find a phone number, or locate a new doctor. As quickly as the phone books are shrinking, new software solutions for everyday actions are appearing. As we leap, or are forced to leap, into the digital world, there has been a lot of talk about access for those with low income, but the impact on older adults is huge as well.
If we are moving toward a model of being able to age in place, we need to recognize that one of the great problems that many seniors face is their fear and lack of experience with all kinds of digital technology. There are programs, such as Generations Online, whereby older individuals can learn new technology, and begin to experience the joy of connection and access to a wealth of information. Some embrace this education and are able to take advantage of newfound skills. But nearly half of adults over 75[i] are reluctant to tread in places that have proven difficult and even dangerous to their peers. As our population ages, the problem will lessen, but the senior digital divide is currently a reality for elderly generations.
As a Daily Money Manager, I know that it is far more accurate and cost effective to help my clients who do their banking online, but I understand the reluctance of those who did not grow up with technology at their fingertips. I often help clients bridge the senior digital divide, by retrieving information for them, downloading and printing forms they need, or even helping them make better use of the technology they do have access to. Sometimes the actual technology is not the issue so much as failing eyesight or manual dexterity. Having a trusted assistant to aid with shopping, connecting with others, or accessing health information can be a needed boost, and a safer way to foray into our digital world.
Aging often brings a sense of isolation as bodies fail. Some begin to outlive friends and family. The ability to connect with others through email, Skype, social media, and various forums can go a long way towards reducing depression and finding new interests in life. There is nothing like seeing the delight on the face of a grandparent who is Skyping with a grandchild for the first time!
[i] Pew Research Center, Older Adults and Technology, 2013