The world around us is radically changing, and getting online is increasingly vital in today’s digital age. Of the 4.5 million adults who have never been online (2018), more than half (2.6 million) are aged 75 years and over.
Those who are not digitally included are missing out on a number of advantages that the internet brings. Not only does the internet provide older people with an opportunity to keep in touch with friends and family, carry out everyday activities such as shopping, using a smartphone and online banking, but it provides older people with access to essential public services which are increasingly becoming digital-by-default.
Why aren’t older people online?
Experience from our projects is that many older people are reluctant to go online. The barriers are complex and older people may perceive a lack of need, be unaware of the benefits, lack the access and/or skills, or be fearful of computers and learning at an older age. We spoke to one older person who attends digital skills sessions as to why she thinks older people are shying away from digital devices,
“I would say that there are many people out there who are not confident in using their smart device, simply because they are frightened or they feel as though they do not know enough. These sessions are aimed at those people, and we all need to get involved to overcome this barrier.”
So why should older people get online?
For those older people who are eager to get online, their motivation is always great to hear. Common motivators for older people include a desire to feel safe online and social media skills to keep in touch with family and friends.
“One of the reasons why I bought a smartphone is to keep in touch with my grandchildren and the family, and so I’m attending sessions to learn how to use it.” (Older Person).
Ken, 89, found it harder to travel due to deteriorating health, and so turned to technology in order to keep in touch with his friends. With the help of an Age UK Digital Champion, Ken now finds it easy to stay in touch with friends using Skype.
“Age UK have been very helpful - we got things sorted. I have had help with Skype, and the background colour (on his laptop), which has helped me a great deal.” Ken, 89.
Another fundamental motivator for getting online is accessing online services and information, for example GP services and healthcare information. Older people are the largest users of GP services which are increasingly moving online, and there is currently a mismatch between these services and the capability of users. Older people are also motivated to get online to support their hobbies and interests, whether that be watching YouTube tutorials, joining common interest groups on Facebook or watching favourite TV shows.
How are Age UK helping older people to get online?
In order to ensure that older people are equipped with the digital skills to live an included and independent life, Age UK are training Digital Champions to inspire others to get online and spend some time showing them how.
“Becoming a digital champion helped me to update my skills and I have helped people where I live to adapt to using new technology.” Thomas, 60, Digital Champion.
Due to degenerating health, Thomas, 60, was no longer able to attend IT courses at his local college. Thomas redirected his passion and signed up to become a Digital Champion through Age UK Blackburn with Darwen, and is now keen to share his knowledge and experience by supporting other older people at his sheltered housing accommodation. Thomas’ motivation to learn has been reignited by these sessions, he has gained confidence and now has more opportunities to mix with the older people he lives with!
With more Digital Champions like Thomas, we are able to continue to help older people such as Ken develop the digital skills and confidence they need to make the most of the benefits of being online.
For more information on One Digital at Age UK, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
One Digital is a UK wide partnership which promotes the use of Digital Champions to support people to learn digital skills. For organisations interested in setting up their own digital inclusion project we have developed a free Toolkit, containing a range of useful information and resources.