The internet can be a daunting place for the unfamiliar. Learn how we can encourage our loved ones to embrace the internet and stay safe online.
A common complaint among older Australians during the COVID-19 pandemic was the loneliness and social isolation experienced as an inadvertent result of the restrictions put in place to prevent the spread of the virus.
While many of us were able to get onto the internet to stay connected with family and friends, unfortunately this wasn’t the case for some not-so digitally savvy seniors. With the impacts of the pandemic lasting longer than hoped, older Australians may be disadvantaged in a world where the internet is becoming increasingly prominent.
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Why is this important?
The “digital divide” is not a new phenomenon and there have been efforts to improve digital literacy for older Australians.
However, the importance and urgency of teaching seniors technology has become more apparent since the pandemic. Many businesses, such as banks or supermarkets, are now speeding up their digital transformation and moving more processes online. Access to GPs, entertainment, communicating with loved ones, or ordering meals can all be done over the internet now.
As more activities become digitally accessible, there is also increased opportunities for online scammers to strike. Older people who are not aware may become unsuspecting victims to fraud, while others who are not fully confident about their digital skills may become hesitant and further disengaged in the face of this worry.
Difficulties seniors face when using technology
Many of the common digital technologies we use every day to access the internet are not easy to use for older people.
Reading off a smartphone screen may seem simple but it can be a challenge for a senior living with poor vision. Moving the cursor using a computer mouse seems intuitive but some seniors with mobility issues or pain in their arms and hands may struggle. These are things we take for granted that can play a huge role in deterring older people from embracing digital technology.
Seniors may also lack the motivation to go online because they might have managed up until now without using the internet. They may find the content online unappealing due to language barriers or personal taste and preferences. Or it could just be them not knowing how to find the content they want. When they realise their peers are not online either, the internet seems unnecessary, and this further discourages them from adopting digital technology.
Cost-related concerns and gaining access to a stable internet connection, especially in rural regional and remote parts of Australia, are ongoing challenges. Even though connectivity has improved over the years, frequent dropouts are still happening, and they create a negative online experience which may deter seniors from fully embracing the internet.
Fear of being scammed
The overwhelming amount of information available online and lack of online safety knowledge are also major barriers for internet adoption among seniors. Many of them lack confidence in their own abilities to use these tools properly (in particular online banking) and therefore choose to avoid them completely.
Supporting our seniors in their digital journey
There are many ways to encourage older Australians to embrace the internet and digital technologies. Here are some tips to get started:
- Help them get set up – Getting the initial set up done on behalf of your loved ones will allow them to ease into the digital world, making it a more pleasant experience.
- Show, instead of tell – Help your loved ones see the reason to go online by guiding them to search for content that’s of interest or importance to them. Form a family group chat in chat apps (e.g. WhatsApp) and show how they can participate in online conversations. You can video call them regularly too so they have a reason to keep their skills fresh.
- Patience is key – Sometimes they won’t get it the first time – or even the tenth time. Older people may require more practice to get used to using digital technology.
- Enrol them in courses – There are courses designed specifically for seniors, such as integratedliving’s Digital Dialogue program that introduces older people to digital technology and how to use the internet. This particular program offers a complimentary internet data plan for the duration of the program and ownership of an iPad upon successful completion of the program. This course is delivered in a socially supportive setting where participants can learn and meet with other like-minded peers from around the country.
- Keep it simple – Break it down into simple steps and explain the ‘whys’ for each step taken.
- Acknowledge the wins – Learning technology is challenging at the best of times, so acknowledge all the things learnt along the way no matter how big or small.
Family members are the ones who can make the biggest difference when it comes to helping seniors build interest in online activities. Your support counts and if you have older loved ones you can play a crucial and valuable role in bridging the digital divide.
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