Friday, July 28, 2017

Senior Friendly Computing Series: 5 Barriers to Senior Internet Use

For many Seniors and their loved ones, Quality of Life is the "bottom-line" objective. We propose that the internet is intimately involved in accomplishing and maintaining that goal. Seniors use computer and internet technologies at relatively low rates. Unique personal barriers make adopting technologies challenging.

This is the third article in the "Senior Friendly Computing" series. Its focus is on the 5 Barriers to Senior Internet Use: Physical, Mental, Psychological, Technical and Social.

1) Physical influences

Age related wear and tear or the influence of disease processes result in general slowing of nearly all physical functions. US Census reports detail 59% of the 65+ group and 35% of the 80+ group are internet users while greater than 50% of the 65+ population have disabilities, handicaps or chronic illnesses limiting participation in the Information Age. Sensory functions are frequently compromised. Those relevant sensory functions include: vision (ie. Macular Degeneration), hearing (progressive deafness), and touch. Motor deficits involve posture requirements and physical access to the computer (Arthritis, Osteoporosis, degenerative processes, and spinal deformities).

2) Mental influences

Cognitive functions include memory, language, thinking, socialization, and emotions. There are several designations for varying levels of the "Senior moment". Cognitive Impairment (MCI) and Age Related Cognitive Decline (ARCD) are examples. According to the Alzheimer's Association, "Dementia is not a specific disease. It's an overall term that describes a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person's ability to perform everyday activities. Alzheimer's accounts for 60 to 80 percent of cases. Vascular Dementia, which occurs after a stroke, is the second most common cause." Other common causes include Parkinson's, Huntington's, HIV, MS, etc. Chronic illnesses may present with reversible cognitive compromise like Diabetes, Thyroid problems and vitamin deficiencies. Wide variation in cognitive function may compromise memory, information processing, understanding and following instructions, also task completion.

3) Psychological influences

Here are several psychological reasons: a) Lack of understanding or knowledge about the uses and the value of the internet b) The perception of insurmountable difficulty and interface complexity c) Illiteracy and a steep learning curve d) Fear and apprehension about failure, change, abuse, reputation damage, security violations, and loss of autonomy e) Common Senior concerns are: I'm too old to learn, I'm unfamiliar with the hardware and software, I've no contact with other users, and only kids use the internet so I avoid social media f) Some Seniors have general discomfort with all digital technologies (computers, GPS, phones, readers, blue-tooth, etc.) g) Unclear motive/benefit: no reason for use, no social motive, no relevance, lack of measurable returns, delayed or prolonged period to benefit h) General resistance to: all new technologies, intrusive/invasive monitoring, required learning and adaptation i) Eccentricities.

4) Technical influences

Technical support should be human, friendly, willing, patient and accessible always. Support availability is a major decision factor for many Digital Seniors. The industry has evolved to implement Senior friendly modifications involving the keyboard, mouse, web access, and internet visibility. Emphasis is applied to restrict unwanted emails, make internet access easier by avoiding passwords yet maintaining security, advancing touch screen features which includes one touch video conferencing. Continuous computer change remains constant. This time it's for the better.

5) Social influences

Frequent internet users who are 65+ are called "Digital Seniors". Cost of purchase, maintenance, repair, and upgrades of hardware/software pose a major obstacle to many Seniors due to fixed incomes. Need and relevance are important variables in establishing an adequate return on investment. Availability of free computers and internet is restricted in rural settings. Access to free computers/internet and public transport plus handicap accessible services seem easier in metropolitan areas. Digital Seniors are frequently found where there is family support especially with younger family computer users. It's important to recognize that certain cultures are biased against computer and internet technology.

These are the major challenges to Senior well-being: memory deficit, social isolation, mobility compromise (personal movement and transportation), and declining ability for task performance. These 5 Barriers to Senior Internet Use deprive the "Silent Generation" of the advantages and benefits of internet based technologies. The next article in the "Senior Friendly Computing" series will address the many benefits of the internet which enhance that well-being.

V V S researches and discusses the vital relationship between Seniors and the internet in a series of informational articles titled Senior Friendly Computing. Pertinent topics include: statistics, barriers and benefits, who uses and who doesn't, favorite reasons for Senior use, safety tips, industry modification, and helpful information resources. This article, 5 Barriers to Senior Internet Use, identifies physical, mental, psychological, technical and social challenges that limit access to "the world in a box" for today's Digital Seniors. Our goal is to highlight trends between Seniors and the Internet while promoting access to all. Let V V S help improve Senior well-being for you and yours.