The world around us is becoming increasingly digitalised, and as an older person, you may be feeling the pressure to adapt to the online environment. The Internet can feel like a daunting place, particularly as we continue to hear of the scams, hacks and viruses plaguing our screens.
Studies show, however, being digitally present and learning how to use technology and the Internet can have immensely positive effects on the general wellbeing of older people, and can help you connect and engage with others around you.
There’s a stigma that ‘older people struggle to learn how to use basic technology’. This stereotype promotes a harmful and false ideology about ageing, and as older people are aware of it, they may fear embarrassment seeking help in learning to use technology, and therefore avoid the situation all together.
Despite what some believe, many older persons have positive attitudes towards technology and acknowledge the benefits of its use for reaching others, staying in touch and meeting new people. The ACMA’s 2021 report ‘The Digital Lives of Older Australians’ stated 34% of older people even believe ‘computers and technology give them more control over their lives’.
Still, many older adults are held back from using the Internet because they feel anxious or intimidated by ever-changing technology and the risk of cybercrime. Understanding the benefits of going online may help ease your worries and encourage you to have a go.
Did you know loneliness and social isolation can be predictors of poor health? Research shows severe loneliness can cause increased risk of depression, anxiety, stroke, heart disease, dementia, lower immune response and early death.
Using the Internet can help you maintain bonds with loved ones, reconnect to your community and form new social networks – helping you to maintain higher levels of wellbeing. Video calling services like FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp or Zoom allow you to see and speak with family and friends, and social media platforms can help you interact with others who share common interests.
Other benefits of being online:
- Stay up-to-date with the latest. Being online means you always have access to news and current events. You can also stream television shows, movies and music for entertainment – creating a common interest to share with others on online forums or Facebook groups.
- Maintain cognitive health. Studies show people who test their minds using mental games and puzzles can lower their chances of cognitive decline and neurological issues like dementia. Online ‘brain games’ like Tetris and Solitaire help to train memory and spatial recognition, while Sudoku and Chess involve forward planning and problem-solving skills. Other popular games to help sharpen your mind include Trivial Pursuit, Words with Friends, Mahjong and Candy Crush. Online puzzles – like these – also have cognitive benefits like improved memory, and provide a mindful activity to reduce stress.
- Protect mobility and fitness. Exercise is prescribed as a first line of defence to protect against falls, injuries and illness, and it is especially important to manage chronic conditions like arthritis. Exercise apps or videos on platforms like YouTube can guide you through basic exercises keeping you mobile during the day without leaving your home.
- Groceries are a click away. Supermarkets and most other retail providers have made it easy to shop for essentials online. You can order your weekly shop and have it delivered to your door in no time. This is especially useful if you have mobility issues, transportation challenges, or wish to avoid large crowds.
- Manage medication. Use an app to help you or your carer track daily medications and leave the worry of missing a dose behind. You can choose one that works for you on the App Store for Apple devices or Google Play for Android.
- Hassle-free appointments. Whether you have trouble with transport, or a health condition preventing you from leaving home, being online allows you access to your doctor via telehealth, and other legal, financial or professional consultations through video conferencing or email. You can also avoid long phone cues for banking or insurance by downloading and becoming acquainted with the institution’s app, or saving time by paying bills online.
You can find links to helpful resources below to guide you through downloading and using apps, games, mobile banking and other online tools.
Taking the digital plunge can be scary and overwhelming. A great place to start is by asking to sit with a loved one while you both hold your own digital device and run through each feature slowly. There are also fantastic online resources to help you become more tech-savvy, such as the Australian government’s ‘Be Connected‘ website, where you can learn new digital skills, find free computer classes in your area, and understand how to stay safe online.
With practice, you will feel more comfortable navigating the digital world and enjoy all the benefits it has to offer.
Gain confidence, learn digital skills and find local classes
Be Connected: beconnected.esafety.gov.au
- Understanding apps: beconnected.esafety.gov.au/topic-library/essentials/all-about-apps
- Connecting to others (setting up videocalls & video calling apps): beconnected.esafety.gov.au/topic-library/essentials/connecting-to-others
- Social media apps: beconnected.esafety.gov.au/topic-library/social-media-apps
- Games: beconnected.esafety.gov.au/games
- Internet banking: beconnected.esafety.gov.au/topic-library/internet-banking
- Safety first: beconnected.esafety.gov.au/topic-library/essentials/safety-first
Groceries online shopping and delivery
Learn about and report online harm
Step-by-step guides for cyber safety and reporting cybercrime
Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC): www.cyber.gov.au
Report scams and stay updated on the latest scam news
ACCC ScamWatch: www.scamwatch.gov.au
www.acma.gov.au. (2021) Communications and media in Australia: The digital lives of older Australians. [online]. Australian Communications and Media Authority. Available at: https://www.acma.gov.au/sites/default/files/2021-05/The%20digital%20lives%20of%20older%20Australians.pdf [Accessed 14 Nov. 2022].
Chopik, W.J. (2016). The benefits of social technology use among older adults are mediated by reduced loneliness, Cyberpsychology, behavior and social networking. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5312603/ [Accessed 14 Nov. 2022].
www.mcleanhospital.org. (2022b). Can Technology Improve the Mental Health of Older Adults? | McLean Hospital. [online] Available at: https://www.mcleanhospital.org/essential/technology-older-adult-mental-health [Accessed 14 Nov. 2022].
Relationships Australia QLD. (2022) Social Isolation in Older Adults. [online] Available at: https://www.raq.org.au/blog/social-isolation-older-adults [Accessed 1 Nov. 2022].