The FINANCIAL — Almost five million Britons aged over 64 do not have any internet skills, with many older people believing digital technology is “too difficult to use” and a luxury rather than a tool for improving life quality.
These are some of the findings of a new report released by the London School of Economics and Political Science this week on the impact of the internet on older people in coming decades.
The LSE report flags several major challenges to engage older people in an increasingly digitised world, and also highlights the pros and cons of an ageing society using the internet.
Commissioned by the UK Government Office for Science, the report looks at how changes in society and technology over the next 10 and 25 years will help or hinder older people in maintaining social networks.
Physical and cognitive difficulties are some of the major barriers faced by older people using the internet, including problems with arthritis, tremors, memory loss and deteriorating eyesight.
Dr Jacqueline Damant and Professor Martin Knapp from LSE’s Personal Social Services Research Unit (PSSRU) have also identified other barriers for older people, including:
A perception that information and communication technology (ICT) is expensive;
Poor access to adequate broadband and unreliable internet connections in areas populated by older people;
Concerns around loss of privacy, fraud and identity theft;
Lower skill levels due to older adults having left the workforce before, or just around, the time that ICT was becoming mainstream
“Overall, the evidence suggests that older adults are deeply ambivalent towards ICT and reluctant to let it encroach too much into their daily lives,” says Dr Damant.
The evidence shows that the impact of digital technology and the internet on older people is mixed, with some users gaining a sense of accomplishment and self-esteem, while other studies report little or no improvement in wellbeing.
The authors found that digital technology has the potential to both harm and help social networking. It can lead to a breakdown in traditional forms of social interaction but also allow older people to maintain contact with distant friends and relatives through email and Skype, alleviating loneliness.
Action from the public sector and charitable organisations is needed to ensure that ICT access is not denied to older people on the grounds of cost, or due to physical, sensory or cognitive decline, the authors argue.
“Care homes in particular should pay more attention to providing internet access,” Dr Damant says. Only about 25 per cent of registered care homes in the UK (4178 out of 20,000) provide Wi-Fi facilities.
The authors say it is likely that older people will increasingly use the internet for shopping, banking, playing games and direct communication, but future ICT devices will need to be better designed to make them more accessible to older adults.