Seniors are getting online in record numbers, with the sometimes, unexpected consequences. First, let’s talk about the numbers. Seniors do consistently have lower rates of use of technology and the Internet than people under the age of 65, but the numbers are steadily growing. In the last few research reports, it was found that 67% of adults, ages 65 and older, say they go online at least once a week. And that percentage is only likely to grow as the baby boomer generation continues to age.
So is this a good thing or bad thing?
First the good.
With a great number of ways to connect with long lost friends through Internet searches and social media sites, the Internet has been a wonderful way for elders to broaden their emotional support networks. Where they may have only seen their distant family on rare occasions, they have the ability to get daily check in’s on how they’re doing and send and receive support.
Online support groups.
There are a good deal of reputable online support groups that can prove an invaluable resource for people struggling with diseases in themselves or an ailing spouse. These resources can be especially helpful in rural settings where that kind of support may not have been possible 10 years ago.
Many seniors have been able to lower their expenses by using the Internet for purchasing items that they would’ve had to have paid for at a higher cost from local vendors. It is also a godsend for individuals with mobility issues. In some cities, grocery delivery from an online store has decreased the logistical burden of many shut-in patients.
The negative effects.
An abundance of fake health information.
There’re thousands of websites which are trying to pitch products and programs which will make claims they’re utterly unsupported by science. Seniors are often less skeptical than those of us who have grown up immersed in digital media. That naïveté can lead them to spend money, buy pills, and join programs that a more web-savvy consumer would have rolled their eyes at.
With online medical sites, seniors may try to self-diagnose from information they read on the Internet. The bigger problem comes from when they then self-treat with the information they “found on the Internet.” I don’t have to tell you that doesn’t always go well.
Because of lack of experience, seniors are more likely to not use appropriate virus protection, malware and spyware protection for their devices. This can lead to having their identity stolen, creating substantial financial consequences. Seniors are also especially vulnerable to a solicitation from phony charities that play on the goodwill of the older population.
The downside of the social connection aspect of social media and online name searches is that the wrong kind of people can find vulnerable adults online, befriend them and start making moves.
Managing the risks and getting the benefits of online life.
Just like driving a car, the benefits can be greater is risks are managed. The biggest tool is knowledge and experience. The more you know about the risks out there, the better off you’ll be. This article is one that you can forward to or print out for a senior. It does an excellent job of outlining the basics of digital wellbeing and includes many safety tips: http://www.connectsafely.org/seniors/
If your loved one is using Facebook or other social sites to keep up with friends, make sure that you have been “friended” and keep an eye on their feed for unexpected activity. For example, an “old friend” comes out of the woodwork may be a pleasant surprise but there are quite a few stories of elders who have become wrapped up in predatory, late-in-life friendships and romances.
If they use the internet as a symptom and disease diagnosis machine, politely listen and then refer them to their doctor to have a conversation before they jump on any bandwagons.
Verify that they have updated spyware and firewall settings. If you don’t know how, consult a local computer repair shop. Set up a maintenance schedule for their computers to make sure that the settings are kept up-to-date. Let them know to NEVER use public Wi-Fi for any financial transactions or private information.
The most significant part of the battle is paying attention and guiding with love and humor. It’s a big world out there!